Abandoned by the country they served: Hundreds of Afghans eligible for UK stranded in Pakistan

The scandal surrounding the treatment of Afghans who served alongside British forces has intensified, as today we reveal that hundreds of men, women and children eligible to come to the UK have been abandoned in Pakistan.

The government stopped charter evacuation flights from Islamabad in November, and new data shows that only a handful of people who have been approved to come to the UK have been brought here on commercial flights since.

Families have been told they could face waits of up to a year to be brought to safety unless they can source their own place to live, because of a lack of Home Office accommodation. A backlog in processing cases is also causing delays.

There are currently more than 1,000 people, including 500 children, waiting for relocation in hotels in Pakistan paid for by the British government. While in Pakistan they have no right to work, and children cannot go to school.

Among those stranded are:

Politicians condemned the situation as “farcical”, while an army chief who fought in Afghanistan said it was “utterly disgraceful”.

It comes after The Independent revealed that an Afghan pilot who worked with British forces faces deportation to Rwanda after fleeing to the UK in a small boat because there were no safe and legal routes for him to take to seek refuge here.

When asked in the Commons about the issue of evacuation flights, the minister for veterans’ affairs, Johnny Mercer, admitted: “The flow of people to whom we have responsibility is not working as we would like at the moment.”

Previously, the British government was using RAF Voyager planes and charter flights to bring Afghans eligible under the Afghan relocation and assistance policy (ARAP) to the UK every two weeks. Most Afghans go to Pakistan when they are confirmed as eligible for the scheme.

But figures obtained by The Independent, in collaboration with non-profit investigative newsroom Lighthouse Reports, reveal that the flights ended in November 2022.

The number of ARAP-eligible Afghans to have been relocated since then has plummeted from an average of 385 people per month between January and November 2022, to just one in December, 31 in January, and 24 in February.

The former interpreter mentioned above, who has been waiting for more than a year in Islamabad, said: “This is my sin that I worked with British forces. I am like a prisoner and we are not safe in Pakistan.”

He said the strain of living in a hotel room for over a year was causing him extreme stress, adding: “I don’t know what I am doing. I have anxiety. If they don’t give me an answer in two months I will run away from this place. I will go illegally to European countries to get to safety.”

Another man, whose father is a former interpreter who worked with the British in Camp Bastion, has been in a hotel in Islamabad for 16 months as he waits to be relocated to the UK to join his parents, who were evacuated shortly after the fall of Kabul.

The man, who is a qualified doctor, is trying to source his own accommodation in the UK. He is not permitted to join his parents as they are living in a Home Office hotel.

“I’m all day long in one room; you could say it’s like being in jail, but without any crime. I am a professional doctor. I want to work. I am young. England needs doctors, but unfortunately I’m still here.”

In a third case, a father-of-five who worked for the British embassy has been in a hotel with his family since they escaped Afghanistan earlier this year. After being told they must self-source housing in the UK, he worries that they will be in the hotel indefinitely.

“Unfortunately I have no relatives in the UK. It’s impossible for me to arrange accommodation there. But they haven’t given us any alternative,” he said.

Last week, armed forces minister James Heappey admitted in response to a parliamentary question that 63 of the 1,000 people waiting for relocation in Pakistan had been there for more than a year – with the longest waiting 506 days as of 22 March.

‘You could say it’s like being in jail’ says an Afghan doctor whose father worked with British forces

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