Afghanistan

No time limit on UK continuing to help relocate Afghans, Armed Forces minister says

James Heappey told Forces News, 250 people a week is "about the maximum" the MOD is able to bring out of Afghanistan.

The Armed Forces minister has said there is "no time limit" on how long the Ministry of Defence (MOD) will continue to relocate people from Afghanistan.

The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme was set up on 29 December 2020 to offer relocation or other assistance to current and former UK staff in Afghanistan.

James Heappey told Forces News 250 people a week is "about the maximum" the MOD is able to bring out of Afghanistan.

"We're bringing people out through a variety of routes," he said.

"I'm visiting the region very regularly and in constant conversation with our defence attachés to try to find more routes or to accelerate the pace, but it's hard.

"We understand the danger that people are living with, and we're acting with all urgency and, like I said, I'd love to bring people out in higher volumes."

Mr Heappey also said there are "very limited opportunities to bring people out by air" from Afghanistan.

"There are very few people who are eligible under ARAP who have documents – because we would have brought them out very quickly because they're the easiest," he said.

Watch: Afghanistan evacuation personnel 'very deserving' of service medal, minister says.

"So we're in a situation where there are thousands of people that do not have the necessary documents, they are not, very understandably, going to want to apply to a Taliban government to get themselves a passport.

"So we're going to need to be able to bring them out through a third country without a passport," he explained.

"That is a very significant diplomatic challenge and there are plenty of people who think that they understand everything that's going on.

"I read their tweets, and I read their contributions in the media, and I'm afraid that they don't know what they're talking about. 

"The reality is that this is an extraordinarily complex situation. We are working every single day to bring people out – it's just blooming hard," he added.

It comes as Mr Heappey announced that personnel deployed on Operation Pitting, the UK's evacuation of Kabul, would receive operational service medals.

He told Forces News "service personnel who served five consecutive days in Kabul, or aircrew who were involved in three or more sorties, will receive the operational service medal with an Op Pitting clasp".