Desperate Afghans in hiding from the Taliban have been told they can come to safety in Britain only if their documents are approved by the fundamentalists they are trying to flee.
UK officials have told applicants to the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy scheme – for those who helped British forces during the war – that birth and marriage certificates must be provided in English with stamps from the Afghan government departments, run by the Taliban since the militant group swept to power in August 2021.
Charities said Afghans were being put in danger, with one MP saying they were effectively being asked to “sign their own death warrant”. Thousands of Afghans are still waiting to hear if they can relocate to the UK under the scheme.
The Ministry of Defence initially denied the practice but has now admitted it was wrong and apologised, after an investigation by The Independent newspaper.
One MP accused the UK government of having “complete disregard” for the desperate realities Afghans face.
Numerous emails sent to Arap applicants show MoD caseworkers asking for birth certificates and marriage certificates to be provided in English and bearing stamps from the government.
In one case, an Afghan interpreter was told to have his children’s birth certificates and his marriage certificate validated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA).
He eventually took his marriage certificate to the Taliban’s Ministry of Justice to get it verified. He is currently living in hiding in Afghanistan, cannot work, and is still waiting for help to transfer to a third country and then to the UK.
In an email sent to applicants after the issue was raised, the Arap case team wrote: “We understand that some of you may have received communications from Arap telling you to visit the local authorities or Ministry of Foreign Affairs to obtain new documentation for your relocation to the UK.
“If you received one of these messages, this was incorrect and we apologise for any misunderstanding or distress caused by this message.”
The row erupted just days after prime minister Rishi Sunak insisted his government took its obligations under the Arap scheme “extremely seriously”.
He was tackled at Prime Minister’s Questions about the plight of female judges who face “mortal danger” in Afghanistan since the Taliban took over.
In response, Mr Sunak told MPs that the UK takes its “obligations to those who helped and served in Afghanistan extremely seriously, through … the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme”.
According to MoD estimates, there are around 4,600 people eligible for sanctuary in Britain under the Arap scheme for Afghans who worked for British forces while they were in the country, including dependant family members, who have not yet been relocated to the UK.
Officials supporting Afghan applicants said that the MoD‘s requests for documents had become more stringent in the past three months.
Those evacuated under Operation Pitting – the UK’s military operation following the Taliban offensive in August 2021 – were told to bring documents “if you have them”, but people trying to leave more recently were told by the MoD that they were a necessity.
Dan Jarvis, a Labour MP and former soldier who served in Afghanistan, said: “Asking our Afghan allies to have their papers approved by the Taliban Ministry of Foreign Affairs is like asking them to sign their own death warrant.
“These requests by the UK government show a complete disregard to the grave realities eligible Afghans face, pushing desperate men into perilous situations.”
Official statistics show that more than 11,200 people have travelled to Britain under Arap, but those numbers dropped sharply following the Taliban’s consolidation of government power and operations in autumn 2021.
More than 6,200 applications were granted between July and September 2021, compared to just 743 in the last quarter of 2022.
Only 22 Afghans have been settled from abroad under the ACRS scheme, which the government used for thousands of people who had already been evacuated to the UK.
An MoD spokesperson said it had “swiftly corrected” the error and it was “urgently reinforcing our internal guidance and processes to ensure this does not happen again”.
They added: “We apologise unreservedly and continue to work tirelessly to move eligible people to safety.”