A former Royal Marine turned animal aid worker who is trying to get his staff and rescue animals out of Afghanistan was given fresh hope on Wednesday.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace appeared to offer a route to safety for Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing, his staff at the Nowzad charity and the animals they have rescued.
Mr Wallace had said he would not “prioritise pets over people” in the humanitarian crisis that is the Kabul airlift, sparking condemnation from supporters of Nowzad, who say they have raised the money for a charter flight out of the country.
Mr Farthing is trying to get 60 rescue cats,140 dogs and his Afghan animal shelter staff out of Afghanistan, and the sticking point has been the animals.
In a series of tweets on Wednesday, Mr Wallace said if Mr Farthing arrived at the airport with his staff and animals, officials would seek to allow a slot for his plane.
If Mr Farthing and his staff chose not to bring the animals they could board an RAF flight to the UK, he said.
“Now that Pen Farthing’s staff have been cleared to come forward… I have authorised MOD to facilitate their processing alongside all other eligible personnel at (Kabul airport). At that stage, if he arrives with his animals we will seek a slot for his plane,” Mr Wallace tweeted.
“If he does not have his animals with him he and his staff can board an RAF flight. I have been consistent all along, ensuring those most at risk are processed first and that the limiting factor has been flow THROUGH to airside NOT airplane capacity.”
The controversy over Mr Farthing’s animals and staff has exploded as thousands of people are airlifted out of Afghanistan in the aftermath of The Taliban’s takeover.
Many fear that not all the Afghans who helped western powers will get on flights.
On Monday, Mr Farthing said the UK had granted visas for all his staff and their dependants – totalling 68 people – but the evacuation of the shelter’s animals remained in doubt.
Mr Wallace had insisted the animals would have to wait behind since the UK would prioritise the evacuation of people aboard RAF flights out of Kabul.
Mr Farthing said the animals could be transported in the aircraft’s hold and once his staff were accommodated, any spare seats on the Nowzad charter plane could be filled by other people cleared for passage by UK authorities, with the flight able to take 250 passengers in total.
“The cargo hold is empty – we put the dogs and cats in there!! And 250 people above in the cabin!” Mr Farthing tweeted.
Nowzad supporters on Tuesday announced a privately chartered Airbus A330 – funded by donations – was on standby to fly to Kabul to rescue the group’s workers and animals.