Now US senators back asylum plea by Afghan war hero

The Afghan pilot, who served alongside coalition forces in Afghanistan, is still facing deportation to Rwanda

Eric Garcia,Holly Bancroft
Saturday 22 July 2023 13:47 EDT
White House says US commitment to Afghan allies 'continues to stand'

Members of the US Senate have backed calls for safe haven for an Afghan pilot threatened with deportation to Rwanda, saying he and other veterans should not be left in “legal limbo”.

The pilot, who served alongside coalition forces in Afghanistan, said he hoped he might be able to find a new life in the US, but slammed the UK government for failing to offer him refuge.

The Afghan Air Force official, who arrived in Britain last year, says he feels abandoned by the UK Home Office who are refusing to process his asylum claim. American senators from across the political divide told The Independent that Afghan allies who supported coalition forces should be supported to new lives in the States.

The Independent is campaigning for the pilot and other Afghan veterans to be given asylum in countries for whom they have bravely risked their lives. Dozens of military chiefs, politicians, diplomats and celebrities have backed the call.

The Republican senator Thom Tillis, from North Carolina, said that the fact that people who helped US service members are stuck in third countries needed to be fixed. He said initially that many people worried that Afghans coming to the United States would not be properly vetted.

“I think many of those things worked themselves out and we still owe them,” he said. “I believe we owe it to those who serve alongside our men and women and our Nato partners and allies, to get them where they want to be.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, told The Independent that Afghan veterans should not be left with uncertain immigration status. She said Afghans who “helped our military literally are holding letters from top military people saying that they saved their lives and they should not be in legal limbo”.

The pilot, who flew combat missions in support of British and US forces, arrived in the UK via a boat last November and has been waiting to find out his fate ever since, with his young family in hiding in Afghanistan.

The threat of deportation to Rwanda has still not been removed despite the UK’s Court of Appeal ruling that the government’s returns agreement is illegal. Without the notice being removed, his application for asylum in the UK cannot progress.

He told The Independent: “I don’t know why they haven’t removed the notice. I am scared they are still trying to send people to Rwanda and of course I am worried about what they will do next. Lately, I am completely disappointed in the UK government.”

The US senator Amy Klobuchar said Afghans who helped the military should not be ‘in legal limbo’

The airman has been forced to turn to the US for help, with the White House pledging to “take care of the folks who helped us during the longest war in this country”.

He is being considered for possible sanctuary in the US and has had his initial relocation interview. In order to access the so-called P1 scheme, he had to be personally referred by a US official.

Speaking about his disappointment with UK, he said: “At the moment, I feel like it doesn’t matter who you are, or what you did with the allies, troops or partner countries. Right now I hear lots of Afghan diplomats, military generals, and others, they are saying that the government doesn’t care about us, who we are and what we did with them. I think the government is not seeing us as colleagues.

“When they came to Afghanistan, they were saying we are your friends and we will help you. Now I think they have completely forgotten us.”

Republican senator Thom Tillis is a co-sponsor of the Afghan Adjustment Act

The pilot spoke about his hope that the US would accept him: “I am happy that the US government is helping me, but on the other side I am not happy about the instability of not knowing where I should be or where I will be. I don’t know which country I will be in and my family needs comfort and a new life.”

Dan Jarvis, a Labour MP and former soldier in Afghanistan, said: “This pilot risked his life on combat missions in support of coalition forces. That he faces the threat of deportation from the UK to Rwanda stands as a mark of shame on No 10 Downing Street, whose policy position is increasingly at odds with the much more decent approach taken by the White House.”

He continued: “There is considerable angst amongst the Armed Forces community and beyond that the UK government seems unwilling or unable to honour the commitments made to these men. This isn’t just a point of principle, it’s a matter of honour and a failure to do the right thing in this case will further undermine our international reputation.”

Joe Biden’s White House has pledged to ‘take care of the folks who helped us during the longest war in this country’

Kevan Jones MP, of the defence select committee, added: "We owe a huge debt of gratitude to these individuals and the government dragging its feet on supporting them is a national disgrace."

Most Afghans who arrived in the United States were permitted on temporary humanitarian grounds. But a bipartisan group of senators is trying to change the law to adjust their status to permanent resident.

The group wanted to add the Afghan Adjustment Act, to a series of must-pass bills during the final year of the 117th Congress. But senators failed to garner enough support to include their legislation in final versions of last year’s National Defense Authorisation Act (NDAA).

Ms Klobuchar, the Minnesota senator, is one of the Afghan Adjustment Act’s Democratic sponsors. She told The Independent she hoped the bill would pass in the future and had strong support from senior Republicans on the Senate’s Armed Services, Judiciary and Veterans Affairs committees.

“We’re building support and would hope to have a vote on the defense authorisation act,” she said.

Another Democratic sponsor of the Adjustment Act, Delaware senator Chris Coons, told The Independent the legislation is about fulfilling America’s commitment to its veterans.

"The core objective of this bill is to ensure that every Afghan currently here is vetted and has a pathway towards a legal status in the United States making it possible for additional Afghans who served alongside our troops and the troops of our treasured Nato allies like the United Kingdom, to have a safe path in a safe passage to our country while addressing legitimate security concerns of my colleagues is a valuable core purpose of this bill," he said.

Sign The Independent’s petition calling for UK to support Afghan war heroes who served alongside Britain

A UK government spokesperson said: “Whilst we don’t comment on individual cases, we remain committed to providing protection for vulnerable and at-risk people fleeing Afghanistan and so far have brought around 24,500 people impacted by the situation back to the UK.

“We continue to work with like-minded partners and countries neighbouring Afghanistan on resettlement issues, and to support safe passage for eligible Afghans.”

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