Britain’s faith leaders condemn ‘heartless’ threat to send Afghan war hero to Rwanda
Britain’s faith leaders have condemned the government’s “cruel and heartless” threat to send an Afghan war veteran to Rwanda – pleading with Rishi Sunak to rethink his asylum policy.
Top religious figures from the country’s major faiths backed The Independent’s campaign to stop those who fought alongside British and US forces against the Taliban from being deported.
Senior clergy, imams, rabbis and other clerics spoke out following the Archbishop of Canterbury’s scathing criticism of Mr Sunak’s small boats crackdown as “morally unacceptable and politically impractical”.
Faith leaders shared their outrage that the Home Office has told a former Afghan Air Force pilot that he could be sent to Rwanda because he came to Britain in a small boat across the Channel.
The Bishop of Liverpool, John Perumbalath, said there was a “moral duty” to give him safety. “The government has been woeful in its commitment to Afghan refugees and it is time for them to do the decent thing and reverse this cruel, heartless decision.”
The Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, said this plight of the war veteran illustrated “the bind that the government have created for themselves” by treating all small boat arrivals as criminals.
“Surely there should be flexibility,” said the Right Reverend Butler, who said the pilot should be allowed to remain under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap). “I would assume given his past service would immediately be welcomed to remain and rebuild his life here.”
Indarjit Singh, director of the Network of Sikh Organisations, said: “It is particularly cruel to threaten to send people who have helped us in good faith to get a better government in Afghanistan. It shows us in a very, very bad light.”
The Sikh leader went further in attacking the “callousness” of the government’s asylum policy – saying Mr Sunak and his home secretary Suella Braverman were attempting to separate “good refugees and bad refugees” by treating all small boat arrivals as illegal migrants.
Accusing the government of “pandering to bigotry”, Lord Singh added: “Threatening to send people to Rwanda if they dare to come to our shores shows a total callousness. Rwanda is not a safe country.”
Ibrahim Mogra, a senior Leicester imam who is co-chair of the Christian-Muslim Forum, said the government must consider asylum claims of Afghan war veterans regardless of their route to the UK.
“Whether you were in support of the war in Afghanistan or against it, these Afghans risked their lives to support our government so to abandon them like this shows utter disregard for the sacrifices they have made,” said the imam.
The Afghan pilot – who flew dozens of missions against the Taliban and was praised by his US coalition forces supervisor as a “patriot to his nation” – has told The Independent he feels “forgotten” by the government.
Dozens of military chiefs, politicians and celebrities have backed our campaign demanding a rethink. Former British Army chief General Lord Dannatt has said the Afghan veteran must be considered for the Arap scheme, and said he was “uncomfortable” with the Rwanda policy.
The scheme designed to bring those who helped British forces brought more than 11,000 people to safety in the aftermath of the fall of Kabul. But another 4,300 eligible people, including family members, are still waiting to be relocated.
The pilot has written a letter to Mr Sunak which has been stonewalled. Defence secretary Ben Wallace has the details of the case but nothing has been done.
Rabbi Charley Baginsky, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, said the UK had a “responsibility” to protect Afghans who worked with coalition forces, including the pilot. Rabbi Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead synagogue added: “If ever there was an exception to the rule, this is it.”
Rabbi Josh Levy, head of The Movement for Reform Judaism, added: “If they reached here on a boat, it is because there was no other choice. An inability to find the flexibility in these cases is inexcusable.”
Imam Dr Usama Hasan, senior analyst at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, said: “Many Afghans risked their lives against a brutal enemy in the Taliban. So it’s right and proper that those who helped the British war effort should be given asylum in this country.”