LONDON: The UK has begun a mission to bring thousands of Afghans who worked with British forces to Britain from Pakistan.
Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told The Independent that the UK owed the 1,500 Afghans already relocated as part of the mission “an enormous debt,” and that it was “great” to have brought them to the country “at last.”
Operation Lazurite began in early October when the government decided to relocate all Afghans in Pakistan eligible to come to the UK, after The Independent found 3,000 such people stranded in hotels in Islamabad at British taxpayers’ expense.
This happened after the UK stopped funding hotels in Britain for Afghans coming to Britain in November 2022, and instead required them to find somewhere in the country to live themselves before they could be relocated.
On Sept. 26, then-Foreign Secretary James Cleverly laid the ground for the start of the operation after meeting Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-Ul-Haq Kakar in London, during which he praised “Pakistan’s support in hosting and facilitating (the) exit of Afghan nationals.”
Around 1,300 Afghans eligible to come to the UK remain in Islamabad, and around 2,700 more remain trapped in Afghanistan or are staying in other parts of Pakistan. The British Ministry of Defence plans to conclude the operation by the end of 2023.
Heappey told The Independent that the UK “know(s) who worked for us, therefore we know who is eligible. There are very, very few eligibility decisions left really to be taken. We know who we’ve got to bring out, both from Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
He added: “We are working at the best speed we can to get people here. We are really grateful to councils and communities across the country who are assisting us in that and to the Pakistan government for their continued support.
“We owe these people an enormous debt. They are not here illegally, quite the reverse. They are here because they did great work for and with the British Armed Forces during their time in Afghanistan. It’s great at last to be able to welcome them to their new permanent homes in the UK.”
So far, 1,100 of the Afghans relocated to the UK are at the Garats Hay army base near Loughborough, which is only intended to house people for a few days.
Several have now been there for a number of weeks. Other bases across the UK have also taken in Afghans on the scheme.
Around 700 houses have been earmarked for longer-term settlement, with 500 of those to be guaranteed for families for up to three years. The MoD is also working with local councils and private landlords.
Heappey said: “The properties offered are taken from stock that is not currently being used by service families, to avoid impact on our (MoD) people.
“Where there is not suitable service family accommodation to fit the needs of ARAP (Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy) families, alternative accommodation will be procured.”