UK threatens Afghan pilot with deportation to Rwanda

An Afghan pilot walks near a military helicopter in Kunar province. (File/AFP)
An Afghan pilot walks near a military helicopter in Kunar province. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 26 March 2023

UK threatens Afghan pilot with deportation to Rwanda

An Afghan pilot walks near a military helicopter in Kunar province. (File/AFP)
  • Refugee served alongside coalition forces, flying 30-plus missions against Taliban
  • Ex-head of British forces in Afghanistan: Former comrades ‘suffered and died’ after being left behind

LONDON: The UK is threatening an Afghan war veteran who served alongside coalition forces against the Taliban with deportation to Rwanda.

The unnamed former lieutenant in the Afghan Air Force arrived in the UK on a small boat that crossed the English Channel because, he said, there were no safe routes for him to use.

He added that he is one of many former service personnel from Afghanistan now facing deportation, and that he and his comrades have been “forgotten” by their allies.

The pilot, who flew over 30 combat missions against the Taliban, is currently being housed in a UK Home Office-administered hotel for asylum-seekers, where he was told via email that his asylum application may be negatively affected because he traveled from Afghanistan via Italy, Switzerland and France, all of which are designated safe countries.

“(You) may also be removable to Rwanda under the terms of the Migration and Economic Development Partnership between Rwanda and UK,” the email added.

He told The Independent: “What safe and legal way was there after the fall of Afghanistan? You (the UK) entered Afghanistan on the first day as a friendly and brotherly country, and now this bad day has come upon us.”

The UK government, he said, should “keep the promise of friendship and cooperation that you made, and fulfil it.

“The American and British forces have forgotten us. We worked with them and we helped them like they were our brothers. We are not (Taliban), we are not ISIS (Daesh), so why are they leaving us like this?

“Every day they threaten to send us to Rwanda or our original country. I don’t know what we should do.”

Rodney Liberato, who works at the US State Department and supervised the pilot while in Afghanistan, has written to the UK government on his behalf, telling The Independent that the lieutenant is a “fine young man, a superb son, brother, husband, father, friend and a patriot for his nation” who “risked his life to support his nation’s development and coalition forces in Afghanistan.”

Another pilot from the same squadron, currently in hiding in Iran, told The Independent: “The British were part of the coalition forces and we had several mutual missions with them. Our training program was also supported by the coalition. 

“I wish to come to the UK because I deserve to be there and to save my life. We, as the Afghanistan fighter pilots, played a big role in the war against the Taliban and other terrorist groups.”

Afghans currently make up the largest national cohort crossing the English Channel illegally in small boats, with over 9,000 making the journey in 2022.

There are two legal schemes for Afghans to apply to come to the UK. The largest — the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy scheme, for those who helped British forces — has relocated 11,000 people.

An additional 4,300 eligible people, though, remain trapped in Afghanistan. A recent investigation showed that some had been put in danger after UK officials requested paperwork from them only obtainable from the Afghan government, currently under Taliban control. 

The other legal scheme, the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, has resettled just 22 people since 2021.

In response to the number of Channel crossings, the government recently approved legislation that would allow for the deportation and permanent banning from ever entering the UK of people making the trip.

Col. Rich Kemp, former head of UK forces in Afghanistan, told The Independent that many people who had worked with the coalition had been abandoned.

“It must be very difficult for them, and we should — I believe — be doing everything we can to help them out. If we can do it, whatever we can do,” he said.

“There was a success (in evacuating people) to an extent, but obviously there are many people who haven’t (been helped) and have suffered and died as a consequence.

“Once you decide to withdraw everything from the country, you don’t have much leverage in helping people to get out.”

Clare Moseley, founder of charity Care4Calais, which is supporting the Afghan pilot’s asylum claim, told The Independent: “Our client worked with UK forces, but rather than being provided with a safe route to escape the Taliban, he had to make a dangerous crossing across the Channel.

“Now our government plans to ban people like him from claiming asylum altogether, and subject them to indefinite detention and forced deportation to places where we can’t guarantee their safety.

“We should be giving safe passage to these brave refugees. This would stop small boat crossings, put people-smugglers out of business overnight, and, more importantly, save lives.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We remain committed to providing protection for vulnerable and at-risk people fleeing Afghanistan, and so far have brought around 24,500 people impacted by the situation back to the UK.

“We continue to work with like-minded partners and countries neighbouring Afghanistan on resettlement issues, and to support safe passage for eligible Afghans.”