Afghan families separated: 'Those left behind face the death penalty’

Social Affairs Correspondent Sarah Corker heard from Aman, whose family has gone into hiding in Afghanistan

Aman – not his real name – worked alongside international forces for 16 years. A former Afghan police officer, he was airlifted to safety in August 2021 as part of Operation Pitting. He is safe, but his family didn’t make it out in time. "My family is in danger. My wife is a young woman, with kids, and no income because I’m away.

"The Taliban has searched my house a few times. My kids fear the Taliban will come back to our house again to interrogate and torment them. My children are scared," he told me.

His plea to the UK government: "Please relocate my family as quickly as possible. "I know that with God’s help the UK government will not forget Afghanistan. Please don’t forget my country and my people." His wife Samira - not her real name - and children have gone into in hiding. Weekly video calls are a rare moment of happiness and unity, during what’s been a difficult and distressing 12 months. Aman’s wife has had to sell some of their belongings, just so she can buy food. Their daughters can’t go to school. They say promises that they could follow Aman to safety in the UK have been broken. "We’re disappointed with the UK’s government. My husband served them and because of them, we’re under threat. We need the UK government to help and rescue us," she said.

Dr Nooralhaq Nasimi from the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association highlights that many Afghan refugees have been living in hotels for a year

Data from five refugee charities (Afghanistan and Central Asian Association, Safe Passage, Bridge2, St Vincent de Paul Society, and Paiwand), shared with ITV News, shows at least 1,800 Afghan families are still unable to bring close relatives to Britain. With the average size of an Afghan family being 6.7 people, it’s estimated that means almost 12,000 people are effectively being denied reunions in the UK, despite the government’s original pledge. One organisation, Safe Passage, told ITV News that more than half of their requests for support from Afghans relate to separated families. Qays Sediqi, Head of Public Law at BHD solicitors and a former refugee himself, is representing six Afghan interpreters who are suing the UK government. “These people are in severe danger, the penalty for these former interpreters (under the Taliban) is the death penalty. It is completely unfair from a legal and moral perspective to just desert these people who served shoulder to shoulder with the British. They are being hunted by the Taliban,” Mr Sediqi said. One of the schemes – Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) for those who worked alongside British forces – has a huge backlog.

There have been 120,000 applications since April 2021, although many are duplicates and most are thought to be ineligible. A team of 91 is processing applications and making decisions on a case-by-case basis. For those left behind, the humanitarian crisis has deepened. Many men are unable to find work and most girls' secondary schools remain closed. Under Taliban rule, women’s rights are crushed.

'How long shall they wait?" Benafsha Yaqoobi, who used to live in Afghanistan, asks of those back in her home country

Benafsha Yaqoobi was a human rights commissioner back in Kabul. Her work there focused on educating children who are blind.

She is safe and trying to start a new life in London, but she has watched with horror what is happening to her country, especially women and those with disabilities.

She fears that as focus has shifted towards the war in Ukraine, the world is forgetting about Afghanistan. "They are waiting and waiting, how long shall they wait to get out? It is very difficult. They can’t have any plan, they can’t work, they can’t live … the international community needs to have a clear plan to evacuate them," she told me. But it’s far from straight forward. Many of these cases are complex and a series of security checks are needed before people can be approved. Every decision is made by a human being, not a computer, so it does take time.

Shadow defence minister John Healey said the UK has an obligation to Afghans who served alongside British soldiers

Also it’s a huge logistical challenge – the Taliban controls the borders and is stopping people from leaving. With no diplomatic presence in Kabul, it is incredibly difficult, and at times dangerous, to get people out of Afghanistan. A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “We continue to relocate eligible Afghans who worked with the UK Armed Forces under the ARAP scheme and are working with partners in the region to bring out as many people as we can on a regular basis. To date over 10,300 people have been relocated to the UK. “All applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis, against all categories of eligibility. Processing timelines vary due to the complexity and personal circumstances of each applicant, and we regret any delays as we work through complex cases.”