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Afghan Nationals: Evacuation

Volume 703: debated on Monday 15 November 2021

3. What steps he is taking to help evacuate Afghan nationals at risk; and if he will make a statement. (904124)

We owe a debt of gratitude to locally employed staff who risked their lives along with UK forces in Afghanistan. Around 7,000 principals and their families have so far been relocated under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy. The ARAP scheme, as I have always said, remains open and, in the past seven days, a further 100 Afghan nationals have been relocated from third countries to the UK. Of the 311 people who were called forward before the end of Op Pitting but were unable to leave the country, there are now fewer than 200 individuals remaining.

Correspondence received from the Minister for the Armed Forces, the hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey), states that a number of my constituents’ family members may be eligible for the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme when it becomes available. The wait for the scheme to open has been unbearable for many. Can the Secretary of State confirm what discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues about this and, specifically, when the House will be informed of the date the scheme will open? Will it be before the end of the year, and what support, including legal support, will be available to help constituents to navigate the scheme?

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says but, as he knows, that scheme is under the stewardship of the Home Office. I am happy to take his representations and make them, but the policy decisions he is asking for are not made by the Ministry of Defence; they are best pointed at Home Office questions.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that Pakistan, with its deplorable record of support for the Taliban, is a hostile environment for a number of people who have fled Afghanistan and are hiding in Pakistan? If the British Government decide to issue visas to people who are taking refuge or in hiding in Pakistan, will he guarantee that they are safely able to get from Pakistan to the United Kingdom?

I listen to my right hon. Friend’s concerns. However, Pakistan has been, in these incidences, supportive, as have many other neighbouring countries. It plays an influential role in the region and it is necessary for us not only to engage, but to ensure that we work with it for the benefit of many of those people left in Afghanistan and for the wider security areas. However, I hear his points, and we also press Pakistan on areas such as terrorism, Kashmir and so on, ensuring that both parties to that conflict withdraw from any support of violence.

Last week I visited a bridging hotel where it became clear that ARAP evacuees are facing a cliff edge on their immigration status, having been given just six months’ leave to remain when they left Afghanistan. Permanent status is key to building a new life for those who supported our forces, so what steps is the Secretary of State taking with Home Office colleagues to ensure they receive indefinite leave to remain when they were promised?

I would be delighted to get those details from the hon. Gentleman, because all individuals settled under the ARAP scheme are given indefinite leave to remain.

I have no doubt that the Defence Secretary is straining every sinew, but one fears that bureaucracy and lack of clarity are getting in the way. I understand that almost 200 Afghans who worked with the British Council, and are therefore eligible for the ARAP scheme, are still in Afghanistan in fear of their lives. One sent this email:

“we are now being hunted by the Taliban. We are in hiding, and we have run out of money. We are in very real danger and in fear of our lives”.

What more can the Government do to help these people?

My hon. Friend refers to a scheme that is stewarded by the Foreign Office. I am happy to hold a surgery for colleagues on both sides of the House on the ARAP scheme, for which I am responsible, and I will broaden it by bringing along Ministers from other Departments so that they, too, can answer these questions and deal with individual cases brought by Members. If the House gives me leave, I would be happy to arrange it.