Ministers are putting vulnerable British Council staff and their families in Afghanistan at risk because of a “red tape blockade” preventing them from coming to the UK, a cross-party group of dozens of MPs and peers says.
John Barron, a senior Conservative backbencher, pioneered a cross-party call by Foreign Secretary James Cleverley to ensure the country repays the “debt of gratitude and honour” he believed he owed around 200 people and their next of kin.
Many former British Council workers are said to have been in hiding since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, forced to move between safe houses and unable to seek medical help.
On top of a scheme to help resettle Afghan nationals who have worked for the British government, known as the Afghan Resettlement and Assistance Policy, a special route was set up earlier this year to help those who have helped the UK’s efforts in Afghanistan and championed values including democracy, women’s rights and freedom of speech.
Known as the Afghan National Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), it was established on January 6, 2022. However, Baron said “no contractor has received assistance from Afghanistan through this scheme.”
In a letter signed by more than two dozen MPs and peers, seen by the Guardian, Cleverley was told the same was “almost certainly true” of GardaWorld contractors who offered protection to the British embassy in Kabul and Chevening scholarship alumni.
It said around 90 contractors were contacted in September and told their applications were successful, pending security checks. But MPs and colleagues said no word had been heard since – and at least half of the contractors had still not been contacted.
“Until this red tape gridlock is resolved, contractors and their families will remain at risk,” they wrote. “No one disputes that security checks are necessary, but they must be completed urgently so that the work of attracting contractors, to whom we owe our thanks and honour, can begin the active work of leaving Afghanistan and traveling to the UK.” “
A government spokesman said: “We have brought around 23,000 people to safety, including over 6,300 vulnerable Afghan nationals through the first pathway of the Afghan National Resettlement Scheme, and a further 1,500 eligible people are due to be offered resettlement places under Pathway 3.”
“Supporting the resettlement of eligible Afghans remains a top priority and we continue to work with like-minded partners and countries in Afghanistan’s neighborhood to support their safe passage.”
Up to 1,500 people are due to be relocated to the UK through ACRS. However, it is understood that 11,400 people have tried to apply, including a significant number who the Foreign Office believes do not meet the eligibility criteria.
Those who are eligible will be notified as soon as possible, but security checks vary on a case-by-case basis and the government is taking care to ensure that border security is not compromised.