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Afghan soldiers (R+C) patrol jointly with British soldiers of the 1st batallion of the Royal Welsh, French soldiers of the 21st RIMA in a street of Showal in Nad-e-Ali district, Southern Afghanistan, in Helmand Province on February 25, 2010. 400 UK soldiers are mobilized to fight in the Mustarak (Together) operation. Combined forces of 15,000 US, NATO and Afghan troops are facing stiff resistance in pockets of Helmand province where they are battling to eradicate Taliban fighters who have controlled the area with drug lords for years. AFP PHOTO/Thomas COEX (Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP)

Military charity joins campaign to help keep Afghan veterans in UK

LONDON: A British military charity has told the UK government it should “honor its commitment” to Afghan military personnel who served alongside British forces in Afghanistan.

The intervention by the Royal British Legion, which raises money for military veterans and their families in difficult circumstances, comes amid growing calls to help resettle Afghan servicemen and their families after it emerged a former Afghan Air Force pilot hailed as a “patriot” by his Western allies had been threatened with deportation from the UK to Rwanda.

The charity’s director general, Charles Byrne, told The Independent newspaper, which is running a campaign on behalf of former Afghan service personnel: “We encourage the government to promptly and fully assess those who are applying for support.

“It is vital that we remember the many Afghans who worked bravely alongside the British armed forces in Afghanistan.”

The RBL also assists those currently in the UK who were relocated under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, and who came under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme.

The charity said it was important to “question the deportation of any Afghan who served alongside British forces in the war against the Taliban.”

The unnamed pilot, who flew more than 30 combat missions against the Taliban, traveled to the UK illegally via a small boat across the English Channel. He was threatened with deportation having previously spent time in other safe countries on the way to Britain, having found it “impossible” to reach the UK by legal means.

Byrne said: “We are proud to currently be supporting hundreds of Afghans who relocated to the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, and who have been designated by the Ministry of Defense as having a close UK defense connection, with everything from help getting employment to providing education and clothes for children, and we are committed to offering practical help as they resettle in their new lives in the UK.”

The pilot claims he and his comrades have been “forgotten” by the UK, telling The Independent: “We worked with them and we helped them like they were our brothers. We are not Taliban, we are not ISIS [Daesh], so why are they leaving us like this?”

Numerous senior figures across politics, the military and the media in the UK have also voiced their support for the pilot and others like him seeking safety. They include Sir Richard Dannatt, the former head of the British Army; Lord Robertson, former NATO chief; Gen. Sir Richard Barrons, former chief of joint operations; Air Marshal Edward Stringer; and Admiral Lord West, former head of the Royal Navy.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called the pilot’s case “a disgrace,” while Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised MPs he would address the case with the UK Home Office. Tobias Ellwood MP, chair of the House of Commons Defense Select Committee, also called for more to be done to help Afghan veteran refugees. 

TV presenter Piers Morgan, whose brother served in Afghanistan, called on the government to “do the right thing and give this hero a new life here.”

Lord Dubs, who fled to the UK as a refugee from Europe before the Second World War, called the pilot’s case “absolutely shocking.”

Just 3,399 Afghans have been deemed eligible for relocation to the UK so far under the ARAP scheme, while the ACRS has resettled just 22 people since the initial evacuation of people from Afghanistan, according to government figures.

A government spokesperson said: “Whilst we don’t comment on individual cases, 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.”

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