British embassy's Afghan guards gather at airport for evacuation

More than 100 GardaWorld security guards had accused the UK of abandoning long-serving protection team

The UK says it is now evacuating security staff who guarded the British Embassy in Kabul. AFP
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British officials have said the process is under way to evacuate more than 100 Afghan security guards who had previously been refused resettlement to the UK due to their contracted employment status.

The guards, who had protected the British embassy in Kabul for more than a decade, claimed the UK government had refused them protection because they had been hired through a contractor.

The guards had been employed by global security firm GardaWorld but the Canada-based firm terminated their contracts on Saturday.

Many said they felt “abandoned” by the UK, after receiving letters rejecting their claims for asylum.

British armed forces minister James Heappey told the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme on Friday that the guards would soon be boarding to leave the country.

He said they had arrived as a group at Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport and were awaiting evacuation.

“My understanding is that the GardaWorld convoys, which are the contractors, arrived at Kabul airport this morning and are in the process of being evacuated,” he said.

Mr Heappey said he did not know why their passage to the UK had been in doubt.

The about-turn comes after the guards wrote to the UK government to ask them to reconsider their applications.

The Ministry of Defence said the guards could reapply for the relocation scheme.

“Nobody’s life should be put at risk because they supported the UK government in Afghanistan,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Over the last few weeks alone more than 2,000 Afghan staff and family members have been relocated to start their new lives in the UK.

“We have significantly expanded and accelerated the relocation scheme and carefully assess each applicant for eligibility and security.”

Oliver Westmacott, the president of GardaWorld’s Middle East operations, told the Guardian that the guards' contracts had been terminated on Saturday.

“The reality is on Saturday when the contract was demobilised, we sent people home,” he said.

“We are going to honour people’s salaries, certainly up until the date that they stopped working, and we have every intention of giving people a final gratuity payment or severance.

“We need to get agreement from our clients, namely the British Foreign Office, as to what the notice period is going to be, otherwise we are materially out of pocket.”

The UK's Foreign Office said it is monitoring the situation with GardaWorld “closely” and is ready to provide assistance.

GardaWorld had provided all the security for the British embassy in Afghanistan and provides security for the British embassy in Iraqi capital Baghdad.

Updated: August 20, 2021, 12:47 PM