Afghan Interpreter Who Risked Life to Serve Britain Deported Back to Taliban After UK Error

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Exclusive: Ministry of Defence finally grant Afghan interpreter eligibility to relocate to UK days after he was sent back to Afghanistan

An Afghan interpreter who risked his life serving alongside the British army was deported back to Afghanistan from Pakistan after the UK wrongly refused to grant him sanctuary.

The interpreter was told twice that he would not be able to come to the UK, despite being described by a Ministry of Defence police officer as an “enthusiastic supporter of the UK mission in Afghanistan” and putting his life “in grave danger, almost every day” during his time working in Helmand province for the British.

Now, after a year and a half of limbo, the UK has finally admitted that they made the wrong decision and have approved his application to relocate to Britain. But the decision came five days after he was booted out of Pakistan – where he had fled with his family to escape the fundamentalist regime – and sent back to Afghanistan.

He has since managed to get himself back to Pakistan, without UK government help, and faces another long wait to be transferred to Britain. His wife and children are in the safe third country but the authorities previously threatened to deport them as well, court papers say.

His case is the latest example to highlight the UK’s beleaguered resettlement scheme, which has been beset by issues since it was launched. So far, the UK has approved over 11,000 people under the scheme, but has been criticised for delays in bringing people to safety.

Jamie Bell, solicitor for Duncan Lewis, said: “After serving the British Military and working as an interpreter in Helmand province, our client expected for his case to dealt with fairly and quickly to protect him from serious risks in Afghanistan. Instead, he received two incorrect decisions and was inexplicably forced to wait for one and a half years.

“The delay in the case and lack of status directly led to his deportation to Afghanistan. It was only the swift intervention of the courts that persuaded the government to finally make the right decision.”

Major General Charlie Herbert said many others who worked for the British army are at risk in Pakistan. He added: “We knew this was a very distinct risk and the media have been warning the government about the risk of this. It is particularly cruel, almost abhorrent, that they have decided to grant him eligibility no sooner than he’s been deported back to Afghanistan”.

He continued: “There are many who are still left in Islamabad – some of whom have been there for well over 16 months now – with no indication of when they are going to be moved to the UK and who are concerned that they too will be deported.”

Labour’s shadow armed forces minister Luke Pollard said that the government’s treatment of Afghans “has been a shameful saga of failure”. He added: “The government failed to deal with the backlog of Arap applications, left Afghans in limbo, and their incompetence has now allowed people to be deported back to Afghanistan – potentially putting their lives at risk.”

The MoD said that it takes time to review applications for help and this depends on the complexity of the case, checks that need to be conducted and the volume of reviews.

The father had worked for the British army as an interpreter in Helmand province during the war. In May 2021, he applied to the MoD’s Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy scheme, designed to help those who served alongside British forces.

He was initially refused help under the scheme because he had been dismissed from service. According to legal papers filed to court, the interpreter said his dismissal was a result of an argument with a Gurkha sergeant.

He reapplied to the scheme in August 2021 after the MoD amended their policy to allow Afghans who had been dismissed for “minor reasons” to qualify due to the nature of the risk they were under in the Taliban regime.

In witness statements submitted to court, the father was described as a “very good interpreter, professional and fun to be around” by a British former commissioned officer. They said: “He put his life in grave danger, almost every day, not knowing that the future would turn out the way that it has.”

An officer in the MoD police also wrote in his defence, saying the interpreter’s “service not only to the British government but the Ministry of Defence and military should be commended”.

The police officer described one incident where the interpreter had removed him from a heightened confrontation with an Afghan army sergeant that could have gotten him shot. Another British colleague wrote saying he “had a friendly and helpful demeanour and presented as an enthusiastic supporter of the UK mission in Afghanistan”.

Despite clear evidence that he was employed by the British army, the interpreter was again rejected for relocation to the UK in March 2022, with the reason given that he had not been employed by a UK government department.

He lodged a request for a review but no decision had been made by the end of November of this year, when the Pakistan authorities deported him back to the Taliban.

The MoD decided five days after the deportation that the interpreter was in fact eligible for the Arap scheme all along. They made the decision one day after lawyers issued urgent judicial review proceedings and the case was listed for a court hearing.

The UK government has started to evacuate Afghans who worked with the British army from Pakistan to the UK after the Pakistan government announced a crackdown on undocumented refugees.

Thousands of Afghans eligible for sanctuary in Britain were left in limbo in Pakistan after Rishi Sunak decided they should not be housed in hotels in the UK and the MoD stopped chartering flights.

The policy was challenged in the High Court and ministers were forced to U-turn, with flights now back up and running.

Defence minister James Heappey told The Independent that the Pakistan government was supporting the UK in its effort to move the Afghans to Britain.

He told MPs on Monday that there was one case of an Afghan Arap applicant who had been deported from Pakistan before their appeal was heard. He added: “I’m not sure there is anything we can do to mitigate against that. Pakistan is after all a sovereign country and has every right to say who can and cannot be in the country.”

The British High Commission in Islamabad has handed out “assurance letters” to Afghans to provide to Pakistan authorities in case of arrest. However, these are only given to those who have already been formally promised relocation under the Arap scheme – and there is no protection for those who are waiting for a decision.

A MoD spokesperson said: “We are honouring our commitment to those brave Afghans that supported the UK mission in Afghanistan. So far, we have brought around 24,600 people to safety from Afghanistan, including thousands of Afghans eligible for our Afghan resettlement schemes.

“While Arap eligibility decisions are taken on a case-by-case basis, the time it takes to complete a review of each case depends on various factors, including the complexity of the case, checks that need to be conducted, and the volume of reviews received by the MoD. Individuals will only be found eligible if they meet the criteria outlined in the published policy.”

Source: Independent