Members on both sides of the House have expressed our pride in and gratitude for Operation Pitting. However, I must say to the Minister that about 180 British Council contractors remain in Afghanistan, 85 of whom have been classified by us as being at “very high risk”, while a further 90 or so are deemed to be at “high risk”. They live in constant fear for their lives, moving from safe house to safe house as they are hunted by the Taliban. After questions in the House and a positive meeting with Lord Harrington, we finally secured a written ministerial statement last week announcing the opening of the ACRS on Monday, and that was welcome.
As the Minister mentioned, there is now a window for British Council contractors, GardaWorld employees and Chevening scholars to submit expressions of interest in coming to the UK, but this application window is open for two months, which may mean that submissions will not be processed by the Government, or decisions confirmed on individual submissions, until the middle of August. That would further delay the contractors’ journey to safety. However, responses to my written parliamentary questions earlier this week suggest that there might be some flexibility to allow applications to be processed before the window closes.
I suggest to the Minister that there is too much ambiguity, given the urgency of the case. It is clearly unacceptable that, 10 months after the fall of Kabul, we remain in this situation in which contractors—not just British Council contractors, but personnel who have promoted British interests, values and culture in Afghanistan—are still trying to sort out an application process that has taken too long as a result of bureaucracy. I therefore seek clarification on two important issues, and I would appreciate that clarification, because I do not want to keep coming back to the Chamber to pressurise the Government. I want answers, to help these people.
First, will submissions from those who are deemed to be at “very high risk” and “high risk” be processed before the closing of the application window in two months’ time—and here we are talking about the third week in August? Secondly, will their relocation to the UK or, in the interim, a third country, also be expedited so that they are able to leave Afghanistan as soon as they have been approved under the ACRS?