Man desperate to help family in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan 'laughed at' on government helpline

Emma Lewell-Buck revealed the distressing situation faced by her constituent while speaking at PMQs. Credit: AP/

By ITV News Westminster Producer Lewis Denison

A man desperate to help his family escape Taliban-controlled Afghanistan was "laughed at" on the phone when trying to contact the government, a Labour MP has revealed.

After seeking assistance on the government-issued helpline for non-British family members stuck in Afghanistan, the South Shields man overheard his call handler say "we are giving them false hope, the whole thing is an entire scam", according to MP Emma Lewell-Buck.

Explaining her constituent's situation to Boris Johnson at Prime Minister's Questions, the Labour MP said: "My constituent spent hours waiting to get through to someone on the government-issued number for non-British nationals in Afghanistan.

"Distressed and fearful for his family, he was relieved when he eventually spoke to someone, however when they thought my constituent had hung up he overheard them laughing and say to a colleague: 'We are having to lie to people, we are giving them false hope, the whole thing is an entire scam'.

"Is it the foreign secretary, the defence secretary, the home secretary or the prime minister who is responsible for this scam?"

The prime minister responded: "I think the whole country should be proud of what we have done to welcome people from Afghanistan.

"Operation Warm Welcome continues and, as I speak to you, we have already received more than 15,000 people from the Kabul airlift, the biggest exercise this country has undertaken."

The PM added that he he was "sorry to hear" about the case of her constituent and told Ms Lewell-Buck to "send it directly" to him so he could look into it.

Speaking to ITV News, Ms Lewell-Buck said the system set up to help people flee the Taliban after evacuations ended at the end of August has been "chaos".

She said desperate people are being bounced from helpline to helpline, from government department to government department, unable to speak to anyone who can provide assistance.

MPs around the country are facing the same situation when trying to help stranded Afghans, Ms Lewell-Buck said, adding: "This is serious stuff, this is people's lives."

The MP told ITV News her constituent is "terrified" for his family's safety after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, but all he gets from the government is a "chaotic, mish-mash response".

"Obviously, it's good that the prime minister has said that I can raise it direct with him, but it misses the fundamental problem that there is clearly a culture and something deeply wrong in that department if that's how they answer calls and that's how they behave," she said.

The Labour MP blamed the prime minister for difficulties being faced by those trying to help stranded Afghans.

Hundreds of Afghans who worked with the UK have been left stranded in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan after evacuations ended on August 29. Credit: LPhot Ben Shread/MoD/PA

"At the end of the day if you've got competent people in charge of departments, then this kind of thing would not happen. It comes from the top."

ITV News has contacted the Home Office for a response to Ms Lewell-Buck's claims, but was referred to the prime minister's response at PMQs.

ITV News has contacted the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office for a response to the claims.

Earlier this week Labour MP Chris Bryant raised the same issue in the House of Commons, and said he was struggling to help constituents because there was no single point of contact for the government.

He told the Commons he has raised 143 cases of Afghans connected with his Rhondda constituency with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

He pressed the government to have a single person to deal with all cases raised, adding: "Since I sent in those names, one of them has been shot, one has been raped and one has been tortured.

And two British nationals in contact with ITV News say they fear for their lives after being "abandoned" in Afghanistan by the British government.

Speaking to ITV News anonymously, two small business owners from the south east of England, who have both lived in the UK for more than a decade, say their pleas for safe passage are being ignored by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

ITV News has spoken to more than a dozen Brits in the same situation.

"They don't even read your responses," they said, adding they had only received automatically generated emails in response.

The two men had returned to Afghanistan to bring their wives and children to safety in the UK. They are now stuck there, after the UK wound down its evacuation effort from Kabul airport before the August 31 deadline following the Taliban takeover.

"I don't know what is going on with the UK. Are they going to leave us to die in the suffering?" they told ITV News.

"We feel abandoned, hopeless, please help us."

Two British men stranded in Afghanistan tell ITV News they are being "abandoned" by the UK government:

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: "The UK and international partners are all committed to ensuring that our citizens, nationals and residents, employees, Afghans who have worked with us and those who are at risk can continue to travel freely to destinations outside Afghanistan.

"We have been clear that the Taliban must allow safe passage for those who want to leave.

“We are aware of these two individuals’ cases. We will continue to update British nationals in Afghanistan who have registered their presence and do all we can to support them.”

The prime minister confirmed that 311 people entitled to resettlement under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) are still in Afghanistan.

He told people stranded in Afghanistan that the government is "working urgently with our friends in the region to secure safe passage and as soon as routes are available we will do everything possible to help you to reach safety".