Afghans who risked their lives for Britain are left to fend for themselves

Despite all the pretty words from ministers, very little is being done for those most at risk of Taliban retaliation

Afghans who risked their lives for Britain are left to fend for themselves

When the Taliban began searching their neighbourhood, Abdul and his wife began hiding with various relatives around Kabul. One night they narrowly escaped by fleeing out the back door. Abdul is still carrying his work papers and identification cards, which may be their only way out. But if the Taliban find them first, these documents could be a death sentence.

In a conversation yesterday via an inoperable WhatsApp link, Abdul told me that he has been on the run now and then since 2012, when he last worked as an interpreter for the British army in Helmand. It was the most dangerous and visible job of all: scanning places for traps and other dangers before heavily armoured British troops moved in. Eventually, after threats from distant Taliban relatives, he fled.

Thanks to years of pressure from journalists, lawyers and Afghan activists to grant asylum to interpreters, Abdul’s record should now make him fully eligible for resettlement in Britain. But this month, after years of delays and confusion – and just as the Taliban entered Kabul – he received an inexplicable rejection from the Home Office. The reason he can only speculate: perhaps it is because he is distantly related to high-ranking Taliban figures*. That is why he is trying to escape.
There are those who have had better luck. Ahmad, who has worked as an interpreter for nine years, successfully appealed against the denial of asylum, and the Ministry of Interior finally allowed him to move. However, when he turned up at the airport in Kabul with his wife and three children, a British soldier told him his papers were forged and refused him. His youngest child fell ill in that endless queue. His only chance of getting out was to lurk at the airport, fighting a desperate crowd, hoping that confirmation from the Home Office would arrive in time, or that another British soldier would arbitrarily make a different decision. As warnings of a planned terrorist attack on the airport come in, the situation becomes increasingly dangerous.

In recent days, British government press briefings have tried to talk about Britain’s valiant rescue operations. Boris Johnson, according to Downing Street, led the G7 in its (unsuccessful) call for President Biden to delay the deadline for departing the US so that more people could be airlifted. Dominic Raab, calling Britain “a nation with a big heart”, promised a “tailored resettlement scheme” for Afghan refugees and a likely 10% increase in aid next year. In announcing a massive expansion of Britain’s resettlement and aid policy for Afghans (Arap), Ben Wallace and Priti Patel spoke of their continued commitment to “respect the risks and sacrifices that brave Afghans have made to support this country”.

However, as time goes on to 31 August, the facts and figures just don’t add up. Britain’s failure to protect even its closest partners and allies in Afghanistan has been exposed repeatedly over the decades. The plight of Afghan interpreters is hardly new: eight years ago I, along with the Avaaz group, lawyers from Leigh Day and senior British military officials, raised the alarm about their brutal torture and murder.

Raab’s promised 10% increase in aid comes on the back of a brutal 78% cut announced earlier this year. Even before the Taliban seized power, cuts in British aid cut vital lines for Afghan women: Afghanaid, for example, was forced to stop a project helping 10,500 women in rural Afghanistan. (How aid will be distributed at all if the country is in Taliban hands is another question).

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