Afghan contractors who worked for the UK are still living in “constant fear of their lives” nearly a year after the fall of Kabul, ministers have been warned.
MP for Basildon and Billericay John Baron said it is “unacceptable” that, 10 months after the evacuation from Afghanistan, British Council contractors remain at risk from Taliban reprisals because they have not been brought to safety.
Ministers promised to look at speeding up the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) process for those at high risk.
Asking an urgent question in the Commons, the Tory said: "There remain around 180 British Council contractors in Afghanistan, 85 who have been classified by ourselves at very high risk and another 90 or so deemed at high risk.
"They live in constant fear of their lives, moving from safehouse to safehouse as they are hunted by the Taliban."
Mr Baron added: "There is now a window for British Council contractors, GardaWorld employees and Chevening scholars to submit expressions of interest to come to the UK; however, this application window is open for two months.
"This may mean that the submissions will not be processed by the Government, nor decisions confirmed on individual submissions, until the middle of August, further delaying the contractor’s journey to safety."
He went on: "It’s clearly unacceptable that, 10 months after the fall of Kabul, we are still in this situation where contractors – not just the British Council contractors but personnel who have promoted British interests and values and culture in Afghanistan – are still trying to sort out an application process that has taken too long through bureaucracy."
He asked if submissions from those deemed at high and very high risk can be processed before the application window closes, and if their relocation to a safe country can be “expedited so that they are able to leave Afghanistan as soon as they are approved under the ACRS scheme”.
Foreign Office minister Vicky Ford said: “I will look at the issue of what he’s said about very high risk… but I will also point out to him that since the end of Operation Pitting we haven’t stopped taking people from Afghanistan during this period.
“In fact, since the end of Op Pitting another 4,600 people have come to the UK, many through the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy scheme with MoD contractors, but also a wide range of other people, including members of the LGBT community, journalists, prosecutors, women’s rights activities, some country-based staff for example, have happened between now and last August.”
Conservative MP Bob Blackman said ministers should ensure that applications for vulnerable people to escape of Afghanistan “can be lodged by other people on their behalf”.
Conservative chairman of the Defence Select Committee Tobias Ellwood called on the Government to unfreeze “nine billion US dollars-worth of Afghan assets”, telling the Commons: “It belongs to the Afghan people, we are not going to change the Taliban’s behaviour. The people who are now suffering because of this are the Afghans themselves, not the Taliban.”
For Labour, shadow Foreign Office minister Fabian Hamilton asked: “What message does it send to other British Council contractors who work in challenging environments around the world if the UK will leave them stranded in this way?
“I think it is high time that the Government got its act together and stood up for those who work with the United Kingdom to promote security, tolerance and democracy in Afghanistan.”
Ms Ford replied that British Council contractors, the GardaWorld contractors and Chevening Alumni will be “prioritised” through the 1,500 places available for resettlement this year.