According to the Independent’s investigation, British officials have told Afghans seeking refuge from the Taliban that they need official paperwork from the regime in Kabul in order to enter the country.
Campaigners say the policy of requiring approved documents asks people to “sign their own death warrant,” despite the fact that thousands of people are waiting to leave the country under the UK’s Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy scheme.
After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August 2021, the Afghan Refugee Assistance Program (ARAP) was established to ensure the safe departure and relocation of Afghans who had worked with British forces and authorities in the country, as well as their families.
The program has allowed 11,200 people to visit the UK, but approval rates have steadily declined over time, from 6,200 in the third quarter of 2021 to just 743 in the fourth quarter of 2022.
After the Independent uncovered multiple instances of ARAP applicants being asked to provide documentation acceptable to the Taliban, such as birth and marriage certificates (which also need to be translated into English), the UK Ministry of Defense issued an apology.
While hiding with his family, a former interpreter for British forces in Afghanistan was told to get his paperwork approved by the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Some ARAP applicants may have received communications from ARAP instructing them to visit local authorities or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to obtain new documentation for their relocation to the UK, according to a message sent to ARAP applicants by UK officials via email.
A message to the effect of “If you received one of these, this was incorrect and we apologise for any misunderstanding or distress this message caused” would be incorrect.
The Ministry of Defense (MoD) has calculated that there are approximately 4,600 people qualified for the ARAP scheme who are currently serving in Afghanistan.
Campaigners claim the MoD has tightened its requirements for the ARAP scheme compared to the previous military scheme for evacuating Afghans after the collapse of the government in August 2021, Operation Pitting.
Particularly problematic is the requirement for English-language documents; since this is not the norm in Afghanistan, anyone seeking such a document will have to go through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which could tip off the Taliban to their whereabouts or intentions to flee.
The requirements by the UK government, according to Dr. Sara de Jong, co-founder of the Sulha Alliance charity, show a lack of understanding about the situation in Afghanistan. She also notes that the Taliban has “pretty much stopped” issuing children’s passports, which makes it more difficult for families to travel.
“The fact that Afghan interpreters, who risked their lives for the UK’s mission in Afghanistan, are still left behind, despite gaining eligibility under ARAP, is shameful,” said Sarah Fenby of the non-governmental organization Global Witness to the Independent. They’ve gone into hiding, terrified, and are unable to provide for their families because of this.
It is unacceptable that ARAP then directs them to ministries under Taliban control for validation of their documents.
British Member of Parliament Tobias Ellwood, chair of the House of Commons’ defence select committee, said: “We need to ensure our offers of protection are not compromised. Doing the right thing is imperative.
Dan Jarvis MP, who served as a soldier in Afghanistan, said: “Asking our Afghan allies to have their papers approved by the Taliban Ministry of Foreign Affairs is like asking them to sign their own death warrant.
As a result of the UK government’s requests, desperate Afghan men are put in dangerous situations, which “shows a complete disregard for the grave realities eligible Afghans face.”
“Britain has a moral duty to assist and protect them,” John Healey, a fellow Labour Party member and the shadow defense secretary, said. To expedite applications and relocations, ministers must immediately address the ARAP scheme’s many flaws.