A government minister in the UK has been criticized after wrongly claiming “hundreds of thousands” of people from Afghanistan had applied for asylum in Britain.
James Heappey, minister for the armed forces, made the claim in the House of Commons, while also saying that the majority of Afghans who applied would be ineligible for resettlement in the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, and refusing to indicate whether the high-profile case of an Afghan pilot would be positively resolved.
“We have had hundreds of thousands of applications — the vast majority of which have come from people who either served in the Afghan National (Security) Forces, who, whilst their effort was heroic, was never who ARAP was aimed at,” he said, adding the scheme was meant for Afghans who worked in “direct support” of the British Armed Forces.
The Independent, however, suggested that the criteria for resettlement under ARAP was narrower than described, which, according to the UK government, is for “Afghan citizens who worked for or with the UK government in Afghanistan
in exposed or meaningful roles.”
The paper said applications were only being approved for people who were directly employed by the British Armed Forces or “those who held a role that materially contributed to a specific British effort in Afghanistan
The UK Ministry of Defence told The Independent that the ARAP scheme had received 138,000 applications, of which just 15,420 people had been identified as eligible. Of those, about 12,200 have been relocated to the UK, with the rest remaining in Afghanistan
or neighboring Pakistan.
Heappey’s comments drew criticism from MP Layla Moran, the foreign affairs spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats.
“The Conservatives’ handling of the Afghanistan
crisis has been catastrophic from the very start,” she told The Independent.
“Now ministers can’t even seem to get the figures right. It’s important that James Heappey corrects the record as soon as possible.
“Getting the facts right is surely the very least that we owe to those brave Afghans who supported our efforts in Afghanistan
— and have been so badly let down by the Conservative government.”
Heappey also failed to give any indication whether one Afghan pilot, who flew dozens of missions against the Taliban, was described as a “patriot” by coalition superiors, and who fled to the UK after the fall of Kabul in August 2021, would have his case for asylum approved.
The pilot, whose identity remains a secret for security reasons, has been threatened with deportation to Rwanda in East Africa — a country with which the UK has a deportation agreement — over suggestions that he passed through safe countries, including France, before reaching the UK illegally in a small boat across the English Channel.
The pilot claims he had no choice as there were no safe and legal routes open to him, and that he and many of his former comrades have been “forgotten” by their UK allies. His case has been championed by a number of senior politicians, military figures and media personalities, including the former head of the British Army, Lord Dannatt.
Heappey said that the MoD was looking at “whether or not there are any special circumstances under which the (pilot’s) application could be approved,” but added: “In principle, as a member of the Afghan National Security Forces, rather than somebody who worked alongside the British Armed Forces, (he) would not automatically be in scope (of the ARAP scheme).”
An MoD spokesperson told The Independent: “We owe a debt of gratitude to those interpreters and other staff eligible under the ARAP scheme who worked for, or with, UK forces in Afghanistan
. That’s why we have committed to relocating all eligible Afghans and their families to the UK under the ARAP scheme — a commitment we will honor.
“Our absolute priority is supporting the movement of eligible people out of Afghanistan
and to date, we have relocated over 12,200 individuals to the UK under ARAP.”