KABUL – In a disturbing turn of events, Pakistani police stormed a hotel in Islamabad and detained Afghan refugees who had been assured sanctuary in Britain. The Independent has uncovered this alarming situation, shedding light on the plight of hundreds of Afghan families, many of whom had previously worked alongside the British army.
These families had been stranded in Islamabad for an extended period, as the UK ceased chartering flights for refugees last year and mandated that they secure their own accommodations in Britain before travel. Initially welcomed to Islamabad and accommodated in UK government-funded hotels, these refugees now found themselves trapped with expired visas, making them vulnerable to recent police actions.
This week, Pakistani authorities targeted these groups, leading to the arrest of several Afghan refugees. It was only through the intervention of the British High Commission (BHC) that these individuals were eventually released. However, those still aspiring to reach the UK remain fearful of a potential repeat incident, which could result in their deportation to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
The news of these arrests has sparked outrage among military leaders, Members of Parliament, and charitable organizations who accuse the UK government of neglecting those who had aided in the fight against the Taliban. General Sir John McColl, the former deputy supreme Nato commander for Europe, described the government’s response as indifferent, asserting that these Afghan allies had been pushed “out of sight and out of mind.”
John Healey, Labour’s shadow defense secretary, labeled the situation as “unacceptable” and criticized the delay that put these Afghans at risk of arrest by Pakistani authorities.
It is worth noting that Pakistani authorities have already deported thousands of Afghans, including individuals eligible for resettlement in the United States due to their previous work with the American government.
In a shocking incident early on Tuesday morning, police entered one of the hotels housing UK-eligible Afghans, interrogating the families and demanding to inspect their documentation. Police arrested seven Afghans who did not possess valid visas, despite protests about their protected status under the UK government. The intervention of BHC officials eventually secured their release, with the Foreign Office actively engaging with the Pakistani government to address issues related to expired visas and undocumented eligible Afghans.
All Afghan families in question were granted permission to come to the UK under the Ministry of Defence’s Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy Scheme (Arap) or the Home Office’s ACRS program. These individuals are currently under the care of the BHC, with their accommodation expenses covered by the UK government, amounting to over £17 million.
Although as of July there were more than 1,300 Afghans residing in these hotels, current figures remain undisclosed by the Ministry of Defence. This situation continues to evolve, with the fate of these vulnerable Afghan families hanging in the balance.
The Independent will closely monitor this developing story and provide updates as more information becomes available.