Government has 'badly' let down British Council workers in Afghanistan

Government has ‘badly’ let down British Council workers who are ‘still trapped’ in Afghanistan and facing threats from Taliban regime, Labour and SNP say

  • Labour shadow foreign office minister said many Britush Council staff stranded
  • Fabian Hamilton insisted ‘we owe those brave, brave people so much for supporting the UK’s work in Afghanistan over the last two decades’
  • SNP MP Anum Qaisar said around 100 ex-British council staff are in Afghanistan
  • Labour MP Hilary Benn said British Council staff ‘are in fear of their lives’
  • The Government said it is working with the international community ‘to do all we can’ to enable those eligible to relocate to the UK 

The Government has ‘badly’ let down British Council staff and contractors with many ‘still trapped’ in Afghanistan, Labour and the SNP have said.

But the Government said it is working with the international community ‘to do all we can’ to enable those eligible to relocate to the UK.

Asking an urgent question in the Commons, Labour shadow foreign office minister Fabian Hamilton said: ‘Months after the Taliban took control in Afghanistan, there are still many, many British Council staff and contractors stranded in the country and facing threats of violence every single day from the regime.’

He insisted ‘we owe those brave, brave people so much for supporting the UK’s work in Afghanistan over the last two decades’, adding: ‘The fact that some of them, many of them, are still trapped in the country, fearing their own lives means that the UK Government has badly let them down.’

SNP MP Anum Qaisar said: ‘Around 100 ex-British Council staff are still in Afghanistan having so far been denied the right to come to the UK.’ The MP for Airdrie and Shotts said those people now feel ‘abandoned by the country that they worked for’.

Former British Council deputy director in Kabul and whistleblower Joe Seaton (pictured centre) in Afghanistan with teachers, their faces pixelated for their protection. The Government has ‘badly’ let down British Council staff and contractors with many ‘still trapped’ in Afghanistan, Labour and the SNP have said

While Labour MP Hilary Benn said: ‘Afghans who worked for the British Council are in fear of their lives. I have been told that in one case the Taliban came to a house, hit a seven-year-old girl in order to try and get her to reveal where her father was.’

The MP for Leeds Central suggested providing money and other support to those in hiding.

Liberal Democrat Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) raised concerns over whether British aid is reaching those in need, saying ‘there are children, pregnant mothers, people about to die if this aid doesn’t get to them’.

Foreign Office minister Amanda Milling said British Council staff have performed a ‘really important role’ in Afghanistan and ‘it is therefore right that we are supporting those in need’.

She said: ‘The Government agreed to resettle more than 50 British council contractors in August, many of whom have already arrived in the United Kingdom.

‘But we are looking to resettle those British Council contractors who are most at risk.’


Asking an urgent question in the Commons, Labour shadow foreign office minister Fabian Hamilton (left) said: ‘Months after the Taliban took control in Afghanistan, there are still many, many British Council staff and contractors stranded in the country. SNP MP Anum Qaisar (right) said: ‘Around 100 ex-British Council staff are still in Afghanistan’

While Labour MP Hilary Benn (pictured in 2019) said: ‘Afghans who worked for the British Council are in fear of their lives. I have been told that in one case the Taliban came to a house, hit a seven-year-old girl in order to try and get her to reveal where her father was’

She added: ‘Employees have already been able to resettle to the United Kingdom, but the contractors who will be eligible will be based on their risk.’

Ms Milling said: ‘We are committed to working in step with the international community to do all we can to enable those who are eligible to relocate to the UK.

‘It is also worth noting that resettlement is just one element to the UK’s Government response to the situation in Afghanistan.

‘In addition to our diplomatic and international aid in the region, we are also working alongside like-minded states as part of the international community.’

She said the UK has doubled aid to Afghanistan to £286 million ‘which will be so essential to provide humanitarian assistance to those most in need’.

She said: ‘The ACRS (Afghan citizens resettlement scheme) that was announced earlier this month will provide those most at risk by recent events in Afghanistan a route to safety.

‘And this scheme will prioritise those who have assisted the UK’s efforts in Afghanistan.’

Last month, a whistleblower accused the British Council of abandoning staff to the Taliban.

Joe Seaton, a former Afghanistan manager for the organisation, said 100 personnel who were on the ‘front lines of teaching’ had not been airlifted to safety.

He claimed bosses helped staff based in Kabul relocate while those who were the ‘face of Britain’ across the country remain in hiding from the Taliban. He said these people now faced revenge attacks because of their work for the UK.

‘These educators, who delivered the UK Government’s foreign policy objectives, and who were highly visible and recognisable to a wary and sceptical public, have now been left behind by the BC and the UK Government, and are all living in hiding and changing their addresses frequently in order to avoid the Taliban,’ he added.

Dozens of former staff said their belief in Britain has been ‘shattered’ by months of waiting to hear the result of applications to the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy programme. They say that no cases appear to have been processed yet.

Today’s rebuke of the government’s handling of the crisis came the day after the Armed Forces minister said the UK will continue to bring Afghans to the UK ‘for as long as people who are eligible want to come’.

It was also announced that troops who airlifted more than 15,000 people from the country are set to receive a medal for their efforts.

James Heappey told LBC that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) continued to bring around 250 people a week out of Afghanistan, mostly through Pakistan, despite the winding down of Operation Pitting in August last year, and that this would continue ‘indefinitely’.

The MoD announced Wednesday that personnel will receive the existing Operational Service Medal Afghanistan, featuring a new clasp reading ‘Operation Pitting’, recognising their contribution to the evacuation of Afghan and British nationals.

But Mr Heappey insisted the effort was not over, despite troops having left Kabul.

He told LBC: ‘I would love to be able to fly a load of planes in Kabul, scoop up 1,000 people in one go, and bring them out – it’s not realistic.

‘People are having to get out through a number of routes.’


Personnel will receive the existing Operational Service Medal Afghanistan, featuring a new clasp reading ‘Operation Pitting’

Pictured: A full flight of 265 people supported by members of the UK Armed Forces on board an evacuation flight out of Kabul airport, Afghanistan in August 2021

He said: ‘Our commitment to those who served alongside our Armed Forces during our time in Afghanistan is absolute and we will keep bringing people here for as long as people who are eligible want to come.’

Approximately 600 soldiers were deployed to Kabul airport during Operation Pitting, providing food, water, and medical assistance to evacuees after the Taliban took control of the country.

Evacuees were flown out of Kabul by the Royal Air Force in what Defence Secretary Ben Wallace described as ‘the largest British evacuation since the Second World War’.

One flight set a new record for the highest number of people carried in an RAF C-17 aircraft, at 439. 

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