The UK’s twenty-year involvement in Afghanistan finally drew to a close this August, but for many, the ordeal is not over: thousands of Afghans, left stranded as the Taliban strengthen their grip on the country, remain in as much danger – if not considerably more – than they have throughout the war.
Our war in Afghanistan was heavily reliant on collaboration with local personnel, from interpreters to bodyguards, and this relationship was underscored by the deep bonds many British servicemen formed with their ‘terps’ and other allies on the ground. Thousands of Afghans put their lives on the line in the interests of a country halfway across the world that they had no real links to and that many would never see. It should go without saying that we owe these people an enormous debt, and the UK should do everything it can to repay that.
Instead, this Government is doing its utmost to add further unnecessary, avoidable tragedy to this story. Many Afghans who worked for the British war effort and media coverage have been blocked from evacuation from Kabul on security grounds. This shameless rejection of former allies, who now find themselves at huge risk from the Taliban purely because of their work for the UK, makes clear the way this Government has used people for its own gain and then abandoned them once they were no longer of service. The likelihood of any of these workers being a genuine security risk, after having dedicated themselves to helping us at risk of their lives – and those of their families’ – is so low as to be a plainly pathetic excuse.
An inspection of the rejections of many asylum requests makes clear the complete deficit of empathy in the Home Office. A guard at the British embassy in Kabul was rejected on the grounds that he was contracted to a third-party security company, rather than to the British armed forces. To the Taliban, seeking reprisals against anyone who collaborated with the Western presence in Afghanistan, this difference is meaningless. The Home Office’s use of bureaucratic technicalities and cop-out excuses to prevent this man, and many thousands of others like him, from reaching safety and security indicates the complete lack of care this Government has.
Aside from the obvious moral element, that we should repay the debt we owe others, is the added urgency and danger of many cases which the Government is directly, unquestionably responsible for. Two Ministry of Defence data breaches in September revealed the full contact details and profile pictures of hundreds of interpreters seeking relocation to the UK. Any recipient of the email could easily identify them and, in some cases, their specific location, personal circumstances behind the asylum request, and other personal data. British incompetence and carelessness, exacerbated by the spacing of these leaks only a few days apart, when security should have been tightened up, has therefore made it even easier for many people to be targeted.
The least we could do is make up for the danger that our Government has directly put them in, by quickly extricating them from that danger and relocating them to the UK. However, despite its criminal negligence and complete moral dereliction of duty, the Government continues to stand by its decisions. Real action would, no doubt, mean a great deal more to those affected than the brief and insincere apology which, so far, has been the only thing offered.
The way rampant xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiment has permeated every aspect of British politics in the last few years, including down to hateful rhetoric from the Home Office, has made it clear the complete disregard this administration has for foreign allies, and is undeniably the root of this recent treatment of Afghan workers. For a government that puts a lot of emphasis on being ‘global Britain,’ this ill-feeling towards asylum seekers and refugees, fleeing a despotic power which we spent twenty years trying to defeat, reveals how hollow this message is. If we truly want to be a ‘global’ power, and to ‘build back’ after the turmoil of the past few months, we can start by honoring the debt we owe to thousands of people in mortal danger and thank them for their service. If we don’t, the blame for the growing death toll of Afghans abandoned by their former ally will lie directly at the doors of No. 10.
Image: Mohammad Rahmani via Unsplash