House of Lords Briefing on the Nationality and Borders Bill: Case Studies on the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy

Published

We urge Peers to support amendment 84B tabled by Baroness D’Souza and sponsored by Baroness Coussins, Baroness Smith of Newnham and Lord West of Spithead, which inserts a new clause into the Nationality and Borders Bill amending the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme.

A primary briefing on the crucial problems with the existing the ARAP scheme and need for amendment can be found here.

Case Study 1: UK-funded Afghan Government Projects in Helmand

The Afghanistan Development and Diplomacy Alliance, a network for former UK civil servants who served in Afghanistan, reports that one former provincial government employee has been in hiding with his wife and three young children since August 2021, changing location every month. He worked for several years for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development on a Department for International Development (DFID) funded and branded project under the Helmand Growth Programme. The UK government paid his salary. UK objectives in Afghanistan included governance and socio-economic development as part of a stabilisation strategy, which required working closely with Afghan government officials. UK military and security interventions provided the space for these civilian efforts to take place, with UK military and civilian officials working side by side in the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team.

One of the biggest issues this former government employee faces is that no one is willing to rent houses to those in hiding from the Taliban. He also has been unable to gain employment and, as a result, him and his family are struggling for daily expenses. He fears that if they are not evacuated soon, he may have to surrender as he simply cannot afford to survive in hiding much longer. On a daily basis, he is hearing news of people who worked with foreign governments being arrested and killed. The Taliban are investigating and torturing the siblings of targeted people and going door to door looking for them. His home was raided late at night a few weeks ago and he narrowly escaped through the back door. A week ago, his brother was called by the Taliban who were asking his whereabouts and demanded that he bring him to the police station. His brother was warned that he himself would be detained if he did not help by providing information on his whereabouts. Every day he is writing emails and calling people he knows to try and find an evacuation route as he feels trapped, without a way out of Afghanistan and without a way to stay and earn a living. He was rejected from ARAP and has not heard back since requesting a review in September 2021.

This individual and his family would now be eligible for ARAP under the amended paragraph 276BB5 as a person who worked in Afghanistan alongside and in partnership with or closely supporting and assisting a UK government department for his contribution towards the achievement of the UK government’s stabilisation efforts in Afghanistan.  

Case Study 2: UK-Funded Consultant in Helmand

The Afghanistan Diplomacy and Development Alliance reports that one ARAP applicant, whose application was rejected, worked for 12 years on different UK government funded programmes in Helmand and other provinces. In Helmand, he was the face of UK efforts to win hearts and minds, a key part of military counterinsurgency doctrine: namely that humanitarian and development work can help to bring security in strategically important environments, and by “winning hearts and minds” undermine support for radical, insurgent or terrorist groups. Even though the programmes he worked on as a UK-funded consultant were considered development-oriented, they nonetheless played a critical role in advancing the UK government’s military and security objectives in general, and counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency objectives in particular. This was part of the “three Ds” in action, which brought together diplomacy, defence and development (also knowns as the comprehensive/integrated approach or Fusion Doctrine set out in the 2018 National Security Capability Review).

The applicant and his family were forced to flee after their home was targeted and destroyed, and he has also survived another personal attack when his vehicle was fired upon. He and his family are now in hiding. Despite putting himself in harm’s way to support the UK’s objectives and having his salary paid by the UK, he was rejected from ARAP because he did not work directly for the UK government. The applicant has not given up hope that their application will be reconsidered. 

Case Study 3: UK contractors implementing UK-funded projects

A UK development consultancy that works with the FCDO has stated that they provided services to the FCDO on climate change projects in Afghanistan and contracted a project team of Afghans in the country. There are seven known individuals, and their families, seeking support from the UK government to relocate to safety in the UK through the ARAP scheme, provided with supporting documentation by the consultancy firm. However, to date they have not been successful. One individual is in Pakistan, the other six remain in Afghanistan, all of whom are reportedly in hiding with their loved ones. They have all reported threats to their lives and those of their families by the Taliban and are having to move regularly to avoid detection. 

These individuals and their families would now be eligible for ARAP under the amended paragraph 276BB5 as persons who worked in Afghanistan for a British-based organisation or institution that worked with the FCDO and who contributed towards the achievement of the UK government’s stabilisation and human security objectives in Afghanistan.

Case Study 4: UK contractors implementing UK-funded projects

Another UK development consultancy contracted hundreds of Afghans on a range of UK-funded projects. While some of them were evacuated during Operation Pitting, many with similar roles, risk levels and vulnerabilities remain in Afghanistan and have not heard about their ARAP application. Mohammed (*not his real name) worked for four years on a DFID-funded tax reform project. There are many Taliban in the tribe he belongs to; they are aware that he refused to collaborate with them and consider him a traitor.

In August 2021, Mohammed received a targeted threat from a senior Taliban official and his brother-in-law was arrested. He decided to flee as he was not evacuated by the UK. He crossed the border into Pakistan without a visa, walking for hours barefoot on stones. He wrote to his former employer “I hope you all will do something for me and my family to be accepted in UK otherwise we all will be killed by Taliban. So far, I have been pulling thorns out of my legs so that I can walk and reach Islamabad. I have not had such a dangerous and painful journey in my whole life.”

He has no relatives in Pakistan and is sleeping in mosques and guest houses. He is also suffering from cancer and requires treatment. In September, the Taliban ransacked his house and asked for him. His wife, who had been there for the night, was shot in the head by a bullet. She was taken to hospital where she was in a coma and had internal bleeding, and later died of her injuries. Since Mohammed escaped to Pakistan, the Taliban have prevented his brother from working until he tells them where Mohammed is hiding.

This individual and his family would now be eligible for ARAP under the amended paragraph 276BB5 as persons who worked in Afghanistan for a British-based organisation or institution that worked with the FCDO and who contributed towards the achievement of the UK government’s stabilisation and human security objectives in Afghanistan.

Case Studies 5 and 6: Additional Family Members

The Sulha Alliance has reported that the family of Hamidi (*not his real name), a former interpreter resettled to the UK, have received regular threats from Taliban members communicated through the local mosque, stating: ‘Your son worked for infidels, he has become an infidel himself and is now persuading other Afghans to change their religion’. His father has become a target because of his son’s former employment. The family has had to stay in other provinces for several weeks at a time to evade the Taliban. This means that his mother, who has been a teacher for 17 years, can no longer work at the school, because she must stay away from the area and her travel would compromise the safety of the rest of the family. The situation escalated last summer when on the 16th of August the family had to flee their home in the middle of the night because the Taliban was searching for them. One of the neighbours spotted them and helped the family to escape. They spent 2 days and nights on the streets of Kabul, and eventually left to try to cross the border to Iran. They did not manage to cross and are now changing location every few weeks as they cannot return to their village as the imam is supporting the Taliban. 

The Sulha Alliance has also reported that one former interpreter for the British Army is, for instance, seeking to bring his under-age siblings and parents over to the UK as there are verifiable concerns about their safety and security because of the work he did. His family has a history of being targeted by the Taliban, including threat letters and one of his younger siblings (a minor) has reported being tortured, threatened, and beaten by the Taliban for 10 days, which has forced several family members, including children, to flee. The family lives in fear of being targeted again by the Taliban, do not feel safe to return to return to the family home given that people know of the main applicant’s work with the military and the history of targeting, a younger sibling mostly stays inside due to fear, and the applicant’s sisters are no longer able to attend any educational facilities.

The amendment would ensure that these additional family members who are now at risk because of their relatives’ relationship with the UK are eligible, under the Immigration Rules, for relocation to the UK.

Case Studies 7 and 8: Rejections

The Sulha Alliance has been made aware of several Afghan interpreters who received rejections from the Ministry of Defence or Home Office from the ARAP scheme. They were not informed about the evidence base on which these negative decisions were made. In one case, it appeared that the interpreter Ahmed (*not his real name) had been fired after years of faithful service for carrying a phone inside the base when ‘personal electronic devices’ were not allowed. While this indeed constituted an offence that understandably led to the termination of his employment in a high-risk security setting, this should not have led to his exclusion from the ARAP scheme.

In another case, a British veteran approached the Sulha Alliance about his interpreter Sayed (*not his real name), who suddenly received a Home Office rejection “on national security grounds” after the Ministry of Defence had already sent him an eligibility letter. The veteran told the Sulha Alliance that “he could personally vouch for him, as he did a 6-month tour with Sayed where he risked his life on a daily basis to help us. I cannot stress enough how important Sayed was to the success of our mission. He saved countless lives”. The alliance has since been informed that Sayed, with the assistance of a lawyer, challenged the legality of the decision, and the Home Office withdrew their rejection. Sayed is, however, currently still stuck in Afghanistan with his newborn baby and wife.

This amendment would ensure that Afghans are not excluded from ARAP unless this decision is made in accordance with the exclusion criteria set out in Article 1F of the 1951 Refugee Convention (that they committed a crime against peace, a war crime, a crime against humanity, or another serious non-political crime, or acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations) and affords them due process guarantees, including independent and impartial decision makers, disclosure of relevant information and evidence, and the right of appeal.

Polling on UK citizens attitudes to Afghan refugees who worked with/for UK

The key finding of this poll is that the baseline level of support for refugees from any country having the right to come and live in the UK is 43%. Unprompted support for Afghans who have helped the British military and aid workers is 66% and when people learn of the threat Afghans face from the Taliban that support rises to 77%, with large majorities across every political party (72% support amongst Conservative voters, 85% Labour voters, 90% Liberal Democrat voters).

The poll was conducted by JL Partners between 31st January to 1st February 2022, with an online panel sample of 2,000 adults quota-ed and weighted to be representative of Great Britain on gender, age, region, and 2019 vote. J.L. Partners is a member of the British Polling Council. They can be contacted via their website www.jlpartners.co.uk.