UK military chiefs call for stop to deportation of Afghan war hero to Rwanda

UK military chiefs call for stop to deportation of Afghan war hero to Rwanda
An Afghan pilot walks near a military helicopter in Kunar province. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 March 2023

UK military chiefs call for stop to deportation of Afghan war hero to Rwanda

UK military chiefs call for stop to deportation of Afghan war hero to Rwanda
  • Home Office: Because veteran did not enter Britain via legal route, his asylum claim may be denied
  • Ex-international development secretary: Govt ‘shirking’ its responsibilities toward Afghans who fought alongside UK

LONDON: Senior military chiefs, politicians and diplomats in the UK have urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to prevent the deportation of an Afghan veteran to Rwanda, The Independent reported on Wednesday.

The war pilot flew 30 combat missions against the Taliban and was forced to flee to Britain. Because he could find no safe and legal route, he traveled on a small boat to reach the country. He was praised by his coalition forces supervisor as a “patriot to his nation.”

However, the Home Office said because he traveled through Italy, Switzerland and France in order to enter England, his claim for asylum in the UK may be denied. 

The Home Office informed the pilot that he “may also be removable to Rwanda,” and that his personal information could be shared with Rwandan authorities, The Independent reported.

Former International Development Secretary Rory Stewart called the pilot’s story “profoundly shocking” because it contradicts the government’s promises made to those in Afghanistan. 

“We are shirking our responsibilities towards Afghans who risked their lives to fight alongside us and who are now at risk of their lives,” he told The Independent. 

Sir Laurie Bristow, who was British ambassador to Afghanistan during the fall of Kabul, said the lives of Afghans who fought for the UK “are at risk as a result.”

He told The Independent: “Many of our own service people owe their lives to Afghans who worked and fought alongside them in Afghanistan.”

Sir Richard Barrons, a former chief of joint operations who served in Afghanistan, said the pilot’s route to Britain should not impact his asylum claim “considering the mess the government made with the evacuation process.”

When confronted on Wednesday about the Afghan veteran’s threatened deportation to Rwanda during the “Today” program, British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said the government is determined to crack down on “criminal gangs who feed the illegal asylum trade” by bringing people to the UK on small boats.

But Col. Simon Diggins, who served as a defense attache in Afghanistan, told The Independent: “We shouldn’t accept the terminology that he got here ‘illegally’; that is not the right language for people like him who have no other means of getting here safely. It is appalling that this man who was in our allied forces is being treated in this way.”

Maj. Gen. Tim Cross, who served in Iraq, the Balkans and Northern Ireland, said: “If this man was a member of Afghan forces fighting alongside the coalition then the risks to him are obvious.

“The whole Afghanistan withdrawal was terribly done, and cases like these are the human consequences of mistakes we made in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Former Defense Minister Kevan Jones told The Independent: “We have a huge debt to these people. This is no way to treat them. It’s a stain on Britain’s great reputation of supporting its friends.

“We always stick by our friends. We should continue to do that. This government is clearly not doing that in this case and many others.”

Sunak has promised to review the veteran’s case. On Monday, he asked the Home Office to look further into his situation.