LONDON: British Afghan citizens are struggling to get their vulnerable Afghan families out of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, I am one of those British Afghans. The situation is very concerning and extremely disappointing considering we (British Afghans) are paying taxes that fund the Defence and Military budget. To state it frankly, those taxes have funded our presence in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban, and today the Government, the Home Office and MOD send us automated messages as our “vulnerable” relatives remain fugitives in Afghanistan.
The Home Office states they are committed to providing protection to “vulnerable” Afghans fleeing Afghanistan. It provides an exhaustive list of who qualifies as “vulnerable”. A contact number and email address is provided for those who qualify. The phone number is inundated with calls. The first time I called I was on hold for 12 hours after which my call was disconnected due to the “lines being closed”; Yes, it is not a 24/7 hotline given the urgency of the situation.
The second day, I finally got through (after listening to another 5 hours of hold music) to be advised that unfortunately all they can do is take details of “vulnerable” relatives and to await a call for a possible evacuation. I made that call on 23 August 2021 and I am still awaiting a call back. The email addresses send you automated responses. In my case, I am still waiting to hear from them since 15 August 2021.
How can our local MP help you ask? The answer, not much. I sent individual emails to each 650 members of Parliament urging for help. Unfortunately, they say their hands are tied as only our local MP can help. Out local MPs can only send our requests to specified email addresses set up just for MPs and, they too get automated responses. Again, in my case I am waiting for an update from my local MP since 15 August 2021.
The situation is the same with immigration lawyers. They have been told to direct clients to the Government website as the resettlement scheme remains closed. We are unable to instruct solicitors as they have been specifically advised by the Government to not contact them in relation to Afghans seeking refuge. The UK Government has failed to offer emergency exit visas or emergency visit visas for our “vulnerable” relatives.
The UK launched a resettlement scheme named ARAP for all those Afghans, currently or formerly employed directly by HMG which in a non-exhaustive list and includes anyone on HMG payroll from interpreters to gardeners and painters. Whilst this is a great incentive to support British missions abroad, I am concerned why UK Government is failing to recognise that British Afghan Tax payers have also played meaningful and enabling roles by funding the Military mission in Afghanistan, thus making a material difference in its mission. It is those Tax payers’ “vulnerable” relatives who remains stranded in Afghanistan.
In my case, what further disappointed us is that my husband is a key-worker who has worked tirelessly during the Pandemic supporting the Government during each lockdown. Yet, today he has been urging them for safe passage for his “vulnerable” parents and siblings only to receive automated emails and be advised to “wait” for possible evacuation calls.
The government needs to act urgently and address British Afghans in our situation. Paying taxes to the Government and risking our lives as key-workers for the Government should at least allow us to save our “vulnerable” families and loved ones. We cannot be expected to live normal lives and continue working if it is too late to get help for our loved ones. If it was your family or loved one, what would you expect from the Government?
The Government, the Home Office and the MOD have all failed not just the people of Afghanistan but it has also betrayed British Citizens and their families. It is unforgivable and we urgently request an investigation into this betrayal.
Susan Mateen is a British Afghan Resettlement Activist and a proactive member of the British Afghan community in United Kingdom.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Afghan Council of Great Britain.