31/08/2021 22:30 BST | Updated 01/09/2021 08:46 BST

Foreign Office To Help Trapped Afghans To Third Countries Before Transfer To UK

Britain will send personnel to Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan within the next 48 hours, the government confirmed.

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Approximately 150-250 Afghans who are eligible to come to the UK under the Arap scheme are understood to still be trapped in Afghanistan, despite being desperate to leave.

Afghans who are entitled to come to the UK will be sent to Pakistan and other neighbouring countries as a temporary measure to help them escape the imminent threat from the Taliban.

Britain will send 15 special-trained crisis response staff to Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan within the next 48 hours to facilitate those who are entitled to enter the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap), the Foreign Office confirmed.

The department will work with the Home Office and third countries to enable people to cross land borders, including by providing documentation to make clear the people in question are guaranteed entry to the UK.

The government says it will also carry out security and identity checks on anyone arriving in the UK.

Approximately 150-250 Afghans who are eligible to come to the UK under the Arap scheme are understood to still be trapped in Afghanistan, despite being desperate to leave.

The government has said more than 8,000 Afghans who qualify under the Arap scheme have been airlifted from Kabul.

On Tuesday night, defence secretary Ben Wallace held a video call with MPs anxious to receive updates as to how families still stuck in Afghanistan could make it to the UK.

Home office minister Victoria Atkins told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme that Wallace had described the new effort to help stranded Afghans as “Dunkirk by WhatsApp”.

The “i” newspaper reported that he had told staff to phone each of those in the Arap scheme still left in the country.

“I’ve instructed my officials not only to send to emails to them, but as it’s only 200 to 300 to actually work through and ring as many of them as physically possible over the period, because I think if you’re in those places you are scared and worried,” he said.

One person on the call told HuffPostUK that Wallace floated the idea that personnel would be sent to the Pakistan border to assist remaining Arap claimants who want to leave the Taliban-controlled country.

“Wallace said he was working with the Pakistan government to reassure them that Arap claimants won’t be ‘parked there’, that there will be a sense of processing these people if they are eligible and to get them over to the UK – rather than just saying: ‘The floodgates are open and you need to take everyone’,” the source said.

However, the source added that MPs would only know the outcome of their cases in a week’s time.

“That’s another week, and I’ve got people who have been chasing me all weekend saying, ’My family has been at the border for two days, four days, they are starving, what should they do?

“There are literally tens of thousands of people amassing at the border and the longer we take the longer they are at risk of the Taliban.”

The source also expressed concern as to whether Pakistan could be trusted given their past ties to the Taliban.

The Western retreat from Afghanistan entered its final stage on Monday night as the last US military flight left Kabul airport, prompting scenes of celebration from Taliban fighters who launched victory gunfire into the sky.

So far the US has evacuated more than 120,000 people from Kabul airport, while Wallace told MPs that the UK had managed to get 15,500 people out of the country over a 14-day period.

Fears remain for those still left stranded in the country, with many frantically contacting MPs for help on how they can get themselves and their families out of Afghanistan.

One MP, who was on the call with Wallace, expressed frustration at the UK government’s response and the lack of contact with ministers.

The MP lamented that they had only managed to get two families out of 150 in Afghanistan, while emails to Wallace were going unanswered.

“At least Ben Wallace does these briefings, but it was still pretty useless,” they said.

“I’m genuinely surprised at how chaotic it still is. Nothing functions, nothing works. We’ve all been left floundering. All my staff have been working all day.”

On the plan to transfer up to 250 Afghan Araps to neighbouring countries, the MP said that was a “tiny minority”.

“What about the refugee situation, asylum seekers, dependants, family reunions? They didn’t answer any of it.”

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said: “The UK evacuated over 15,000 people from Afghanistan over the past fortnight, but we know not everyone who wanted to leave and were eligible for UK support could.

“We will stand by them, and we’re working with partners in neighbouring countries to support onward travel to the UK.

“These latest rapid deployment teams will bolster those efforts and reinforce our embassy teams on the ground to help those in need.”

The Ministry of Defence declined to comment.