UK launches scheme to relocate and protect Afghans who helped British forces

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace says scheme will protect those who stood shoulder to shoulder with British troops

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel with a member of the Armed Forces.Ministry of Defence
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Hundreds of Afghans who assisted British forces in the fight against the Taliban will be able to relocate to the UK under a new scheme to protect those at risk of harm.

It will be the first scheme of its kind in the world when it launches shortly and comes amid a rise in violence in Afghanistan.

Under the new scheme, anyone facing imminent risk, such as intimidation or threat to life, will be offered priority relocation regardless of their employment status, rank or role, or length of time served.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said it will protect those who stood shoulder to shoulder with British troops.

“Nobody’s life should be put at risk because they supported the UK government to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan,” he said.

“As the situation in the region evolves, it is only right we do more to protect local citizens who stood shoulder to shoulder with our armed forces.

“As a former soldier I know the bond between the brothers who fight by our side.

"These Afghans stood by us."

They risked their lives to make a better country, he said.

"We owe them a debt and I am proud that the Home Secretary and I can finally close this chapter and thank them for their service.”

The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy will be introduced in 2021 to reflect the changing situation in Afghanistan.

It will offer relocation to current and former employees such as embassy support staff, those in political or counter-terrorism roles, or cultural advisers who could face threats related to their occupation.

The move follows the recent expansion of a separate scheme to relocate Afghan interpreters in recognition of the government’s gratitude for their service.

HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN - JUNE 1: British Army Officer, Captain Alex Corbet Burcher from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards Regiment,attached to the Inkerman Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards Regiment patrols with ANA (Afghan National Army) Soldiers his area of operation  during "Lastay Kulang" Operation" on June 1, 2007 in Sangin Valley, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. British troops from The Inkerman Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, part of ISAF Task Force Helmand, are mentoring the Afghan National Army while conducting security operations on behalf of the Government of Afghanistan in Helmand Province.(Photo by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

“We owe an immense debt of gratitude to the brave individuals who worked side by side with our armed forces in Afghanistan,” Home Secretary Priti Patel said.

“I am proud that through this new scheme we can provide further support and sanctuary to these courageous men and women.”

The new intimidation scheme will be administered by a specialist team in Kabul, the Intimidation Investigations Unit, which was set up to assist and support local staff who are threatened as a result of their work with the UK.

The UK is the only nation with such a permanent expert team.

The scheme will operate under a tiered approach, with high-risk local staff who face imminent threat to be relocated urgently.

Local staff who are in the public eye and who could be at risk as the security situation evolves will be relocated to the UK on a routine basis, and those not eligible to move will be offered other support such as security advice and relocation within Afghanistan.

In December, the UN's envoy to Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, warned of worsening violence after US President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw forces from the country.

She described an increase in roadside car bombs, mass civilian and child casualties and “new terrorist threats” as the US was halving the size of its deployment and said attacks on schools and deaths of children were rising.

Improvised explosive devices killed and maimed 60 per cent more civilians in October and November than in the same months in 2019.

The number of assassinations also rose, including the killings of the deputy governor of Kabul, Mahboobullah Mohebi, and his assistant in a car bombing in December.

Despite the 2020 peace talks, in December it was estimated that at least 93 civilians and 159 members of pro-government forces were killed by members of the Taliban.

The UK scheme will run alongside its existing Ex-Gratia Scheme, which offers relocation to the UK for Afghan interpreters who served a minimum of 12 months on the front line before resigning or being made redundant.

The Ex-Gratia Scheme was established in recognition of the UK government’s gratitude for the service of Afghan interpreters, rather than any risk they may face.

It will run until November 2022, at which point the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy will be the single-track route for relocation.

More than 1,400 Afghans and their families have relocated to the UK under the Ex-Gratia scheme so far, while hundreds more received funding for education and training.

Legislation for the new scheme will be introduced in April through changes to the Home Office’s immigration rules.