‘Indefensible disgrace’: Former head of Nato backs our campaign to stop Afghan war hero’s deportation to Rwanda
The former head of Nato has backed The Independent’s campaign to stop the deportation of an Afghan war hero threatened with being sent to Rwanda.
Lord Robertson, the former secretary general of the military alliance, called on the government to show “decency” and give the pilot “the respect and safety he deserves”.
The case of the Afghan Air Force veteran, who served alongside UK forces, has sparked an outcry after it was revealed by The Independent earlier this week.
Senior defence chiefs, diplomats and politicians have protested the threat to deport him to Rwanda because he arrived on a small boat after he could secure no safe and legal route to the UK.
Lord Robertson, a former UK defence secretary who was secretary general of Nato between 1999 and 2003, said: “It would be an indefensible disgrace if he was sent to Rwanda.
“We owe a huge debt to people like him and in decency we should give him the respect and safety he deserves.”
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a former Tory defence secretary who also served as foreign secretary, called for a review of the case, saying ministers could use their “discretion”.
He told The Independent: “If there is evidence the person worked hard to support British forces in Afghanistan that should certainly be taken in account. If there are reasons personal to his history – whereby this country owes him a debt – it certainly deserves to be looked at. Ultimately ministers can use discretion.
“Even if there is no legal obligation, you have a twinge of concern – sometimes a substantial twinge of concern – if someone who put their own life at stake to help British faces if there are now in personal difficulty. It’s certainly worth looking into whether the evidence supports what is being said.”Another former defence minister also backed the Independent’s campaign.
Baroness Taylor of Bolton said: “It is disgraceful. I am amazed that the government can be so callous. We have an obligation and I think we should fulfil that.”
She added: “Other people will always look to see how we react in situations like this. And I think that in recent years our record has not been great. It is a very simple situation which can be easily solved. And I think it would be to the benefit of everyone- the individual concerned, the British government, our international standing. I just can’t understand why ministers have not taken the appropriate action – letting the guy stay”.
The air force lieutenant has personally appealed to Rishi Sunak to give him sanctuary in Britain in a letter.
Earlier this week Mr Sunak vowed to look at the case after he was pressed on it by the Conservative MP Caroline Nokes in the House of Commons.
Soon afterwards ex-defence minister Kevan Jones described the situation as “a stain on Britain’s great reputation”.
Sir Laurie Bristow, the British ambassador to Afghanistan during the summer of 2021 and the fall of Kabul, also spoke out warning that the lives of Afghans who “worked for us and with us … are at risk as a result”.
General Sir Richard Barrons, a former chief of joint operations who served in Afghanistan, has said the way the pilot came to the UK should not affect his chance of being granted asylum.
“This should not be complicated … The fact that he went through other countries to get here is not surprising, considering the mess the government made with the evacuation process,” he said.
Tobias Ellwood, the chair of parliament’s defence select committee, said of the deportation threat: “This is not who we are as a nation.”