LONDON: British prime minister Rishi Sunak has promised that ministers will look into the case of an Afghan pilot who served alongside British forces but is being threatened with deportation from the UK to Rwanda. It came after the Independent newspaper published a story about his plight.
The pilot, who cannot be named to protect his family in Afghanistan, flew 30 combat missions against the Taliban. He was forced to go into hiding when the Taliban regained control of the country in 2021 following the withdrawal of Western troops.
The air force lieutenant, who was described as a “patriot to his nation” by his coalition supervisor, arrived in the UK on a small boat because there were “no other viable safe routes.”
He told the Independent: “What safe and legal way was there after the fall of Afghanistan? You entered Afghanistan on the first day as a friendly and brotherly country, and now this bad day has come upon us.”
He called on UK authorities to “keep the promise of friendship and cooperation that you made, and fulfill 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 (Daesh), so why are they leaving us like this?”
The Home Office told the pilot in an email that no final decision had been made on his asylum case but that there was “evidence” he had traveled through Italy, Switzerland and France before reaching the UK, which would “have consequences” for whether his claim is valid under the UK asylum system, the Independent reported.
Sunak was questioned about the case during a Commons Liaison Committee hearing chaired by Conservative MP Caroline Nokes. She said Afghans who fought alongside British forces were “exactly the sort of people we want to help.”
The prime minister said he could not comment on individual cases but would “happily make sure the Home Office have a look” if the details were sent to him.
The case has prompted fresh criticism of the government’s asylum policy. Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood said it illustrated a “gaping hole” in the system. Adm. Lord West, a former head of the British Navy, said the government has a duty to protect Afghans who fought alongside British troops.
The pilot told the Independent he is not the only person facing deportation.
“Every day they threaten to send us to Rwanda or our original country,” he said. “I don’t know what we should do. It was impossible in Afghanistan, and it was completely impossible for us to wait for the help of the British and American forces.”
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 neighboring Afghanistan on resettlement issues, and to support safe passage for eligible Afghans.”