Hundreds of locally employed Afghan staff and their families, who find themselves at risk as a result of their work to support British Armed Forces, will be able to relocate to the UK under a new scheme.
The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, announced by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel, will be introduced in 2021 to reflect the changing situation in Afghanistan.
The policy will offer relocation to current and former employees, such as embassy support staff, those in political or counter-terrorism roles, cultural advisors, translators and interpreters.
The move follows the recent expansion of the separate Ex-Gratia Scheme which offers UK relocation to Afghan interpreters who served a minimum of one year on the frontline, in recognition of the Government’s gratitude for their service.
The Ex-Gratia Scheme will run until November 2022, at which point the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy will be the only path to relocation.
To date, more than 1,400 Afghans and their families have relocated to the UK under the Ex-Gratia Scheme, while hundreds more received funding for education and training, according to the Ministry of Defence (MOD).
The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy scheme will operate under a tiered approach, with high-risk local staff who face imminent threat to be relocated urgently regardless of their employment status, rank, role, or length of time served.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “Nobody’s life should be put at risk because they supported the UK Government to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.
“As the situation in the region evolves, it is only right we do more to protect local citizens who stood shoulder to shoulder with our Armed Forces.
“As a former soldier, I know the bond between the brothers who fight by our side. These Afghans stood by us and risked their lives to make a better country," he added.
“We owe them a debt and I am proud that the Home Secretary and I can finally close this chapter and thank them for their service.”
The new scheme will be administered by a specialist team based in Kabul – the Intimidation Investigation Unit – which was set up to assist and support local staff who are threatened as a result of their work with the UK.
Local staff who are in the public eye and who could be at risk as the security situation evolves will be relocated to the UK on a routine basis.
Those ineligible to move will be offered other support such as security advice and relocation within Afghanistan.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “We owe an immense debt of gratitude to the brave individuals who have worked side by side with our Armed Forces in Afghanistan.
“I am proud that through this new scheme we can provide further support and sanctuary to these courageous men and women.”
There is no minimum length of service required under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, but those who have been dismissed, including for disciplinary or security reasons, will not be eligible.
Legislation for the new scheme will be introduced in April through changes to the Home Office immigration rules.
The MOD said the MOD and the Home Office will continue to seek ways to go further to support this cohort and others who have supported the British Armed Forces.
Cover image: A Chinook helicopter by Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan (Picture: US Army).