Keir Starmer has backed The Independent’s campaign to stop the deportation of an Afghan war hero threatened with removal to Rwanda.
In a dramatic intervention, the Labour leader said it was “a disgrace” that a brave pilot who fought alongside British troops faced “being forced out”.
He also accused the government of a “shameful level of incompetence” as he called on ministers not to deport him.
The Independent revealed this week that the Afghan Air Force veteran had fled the Taliban and arrived in Britain on a small boat because he could secure no safe and legal route to the UK.
Rishi Sunak has promised that the Home Office will review his case. But as anger over the situation grew, senior military chiefs, politicians and diplomats lined up to demand he not be sent to Rwanda.
Sir Keir told The Independent: “It’s a disgrace that this brave pilot who fought alongside British troops is facing deportation at the hands of the government’s unworkable gimmick.”
The Independent has launched a petition calling for the UK to support Afghan war heroes who served alongside Britain.
He added: “We are a proud nation which always resolutely stands in support of our armed forces and our allies.
“Personnel at home and abroad continue to work tirelessly to secure our safety as a nation. From conflicts in Afghanistan to Ukraine, we should be celebrating their contribution to our peace and national security.
“It’s damning of this government that a war veteran who fought alongside British troops now faces being forced out of Britain. We should be protecting those who fought alongside our soldiers, not deporting them.”
He also said it was “clear” the Conservatives’ “shameful level of incompetence in dealing with the asylum system is having a dangerous impact. The government must commit to stopping this proposed deportation”.
The Afghan veteran flew 30 combat missions against the Taliban.
He was praised by his coalition forces supervisor as a “patriot to his nation”.
But an email from the Home Office told him that because he had travelled through Switzerland, Italy and France on his way to England that could have “consequences” for “whether your claim is admitted to the UK asylum system.” And he was warned that he “may also be removable to Rwanda”.
The Home Office also told him his personal data could be shared with the Rwandan authorities, leading to claims that he has been “forgotten” by US and British forces.
Amid a growing clamour over the case, former Conservative cabinet minister Rory Stewart called the threat to deport the pilot to Rwanda “shameful”.
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Sir Laurie Bristow, who was ambassador to Afghanistan during the fall of Kabul in the summer of 2021, warmed many British soldiers “owe their lives to Afghans who fought alongside them”.
Former defence minister Kevan Jones also described the situation as “a stain on Britain’s great reputation”.
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