A former Afghan Air Force pilot who served alongside British armed forces is among those who have fled to the UK on small boats and are now facing deportation to Rwanda.
According to the Independent newspaper, the air force lieutenant who flew 30 combat missions against the Taliban, has been forced into hiding and says it was “impossible” to make his way to Britain via a safe route. He claims that he and many other Afghan forces personnel have been “forgotten” by the US and British forces and believes that the promise of “friendship and cooperation” has been abandoned.
Colonel Rich Kemp, former head of the British forces in Afghanistan, acknowledges that many people have been left behind, saying, “It must be very difficult for them, and we should – I believe – be doing everything we can to help them out. If we can do it, whatever we can do.”
The Afghan air force lieutenant, who wished to remain anonymous to protect his family still in Afghanistan, is now living in a Home Office hotel for asylum seekers. He told The Independent that the American and British forces have forgotten their Afghan counterparts, saying, “We worked with them and we helped them like they were our brothers. We are not Talib, we are not ISIS, so why are they leaving us like this?”
The British government has said that it will send Afghans to Rwanda if it decides that having passed through a safe European country makes them “inadmissible” for asylum in the UK. The pilot says that many other ex-Afghan military personnel are in the same situation, and every day they are threatened with deportation. He said, “It was impossible in Afghanistan, and it was completely impossible for us to wait for the help of the British and American forces.”
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Tobia Ellwood, Chair of the British House of Commons Defence Select Committee, expressed unease on Twitter and called on the British government to look at the pilot’s case and “open “address the wider issue of how an Afghan (who supported UK Armed Forces) can safely apply for asylum in the UK.”
The pilot’s claim is being supported by one of his American supervisors, Rodney Liberato from the US Department of State, who described the pilot as a “fine young man, a superb son, brother, husband, father, friend, and a patriot for his nation.”
The British government recently passed a bill that would see anyone who comes to the UK in a small boat deported and banned from returning, but one of the safe routes is the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (ARAP) scheme, which has so far brought more than 11,000 people to safety. The Afghan lieutenant may qualify under category 4 of ARAP, which is for special cases.
The British government has repeatedly said that there is no reason for people to cross the Channel illegally because there are safe and legal routes to claim asylum. A Home Office spokesperson said the department did not routinely comment on individual cases, but added, “We remain committed to providing protection for vulnerable and at-risk people fleeing Afghanistan, and so far have brought around 24,500 people impacted by the situation back to the UK.”