UK red tape putting lives of British Council contractors in Afghanistan 'at risk'

Many of the contractors are in hiding and in fear for their lives, says MP

Afghans display documents to foreign forces as they attempt to flee the country outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul in August 2021. EPA
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A Conservative MP has warned lives “are at risk” because “progress has not been made” in bringing former British Council contractors to the UK.

About 200 contractors remain stuck in Afghanistan “because of a blockage of red tape” in the UK, said John Baron, MP for Basildon and Billericay.

“Until this blockage is cleared, they will remain in danger,” he added.

Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell responded by saying that ministers “very much understand the urgency to which he refers” but stressed “there is a balance to be struck”.

Mr Baron told the Commons: “People’s lives are at risk. I have been through the regular channels a year ago and was told that progress was being made. The progress has not been made.

“For more than 16 months since Operation Pitting and the fall of Kabul, there remain around 200 British Council contractors and their families stuck in Afghanistan.”

Many of them are in hiding and are in fear for their lives, unable to seek medical advice when necessary for themselves and their families, he continued.

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“Since its launch in January, the scheme, the ACRS [Afghan citizens resettlement] scheme has not repatriated a single person out of Afghanistan … confirmation of this that I have seen with the British Council,” he said.

Mr Mitchell told MPs it was “right that officials should look very carefully at each and every one of these cases”.

“We very much understand the urgency to which he refers. This particular pathway process started on June 20 and remained open for eight weeks,” he said.

“The Foreign Office has looked at every single one of the applicants and the process is moving through. I would just say although it is taking a lot of time, it is right that officials should look very carefully at each and every one of these cases.

“There is a balance to be struck. But I will ensure that his words today and his concerns are reflected across government.”

He earlier told MPs that during Operation Pitting, “some” British Council contractors were evacuated from Afghanistan and that some still “remain in Afghanistan” but are eligible for resettlement.

“The Afghan citizens resettlement scheme will see up to 20,000 people from Afghanistan and the region settled to the United Kingdom,” he said.

Speaking about the pathway of the programme under which British Council contracts are eligible, he said: “People are being notified of the outcome and we are sending names to the Home Office for security checks. Once these checks have been completed, we will provide on the next steps to those who are being referred for a place.”

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Conservative chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament Julian Lewis suggested ministers need to do more to ensure Afghans who need to be resettled in the UK have their identities protected before they escape.

“Doesn’t the government have to come up with a better idea as how to extract people who are at risk as a result of helping us without them having to declare themselves openly and thus put themselves in more peril?” he asked.

Mr Mitchell replied: “There are various ways in which we can deal with this which it would not be sensible to talk about across the floor of the House.”

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Shadow Foreign Office minister Fabian Hamilton expressed worries that “fewer than 10 staff are currently working” on the Afghan citizens resettlement programme.

“I am contacted frequently by British Council contractors who are suffering terribly and I would be grateful if the minister would allow me to raise these cases with him privately,” he added.

“Many of those who are still in Afghanistan are former security guards who protected British staff at the embassy and they undertook an extremely difficult task during the evacuation in August last year.

“We owe so much to these courageous British Council contractors and the fact that they are still in Afghanistan and facing daily violence and threats as a result of their co-operation with the UK is nothing short of a disgrace.”

Updated: December 12, 2022, 11:12 PM