Afghan Journalists Obtain Right to Come to Britain After Media Appeal | Afghanistan

More than 200 Afghan journalists who have worked with British media must be granted access to the UK after an appeal by a coalition of UK newspapers and broadcasters.

Dominic Raab, the foreign minister, agreed to grant a visa waiver to the group after officials said the government recognized the risks they were taking in pursuing media freedom and defending citizens. human rights through their work.

The group will now be allowed to enter the UK outside of immigration rules, which will give them the opportunity to settle in Britain. They may be accompanied by their immediate family, such as a partner and dependent children under the age of 18. However, with chaos still surrounding Kabul airport, serious concerns remain over when the group will be able to leave the country.

Media organizations, including the Observer and Guardian, appealed to the Foreign Office after it emerged that journalists would not be eligible to come to the UK under existing programs. Officials said those who qualified are being contacted.

Raab said: “We must protect these courageous Afghan journalists who have worked so courageously to shed light on what is really going on in Afghanistan. That is why we have granted these journalists and their media staff a visa waiver to come to the UK.

In an open letter last week, major UK newspapers and broadcasters said their ability to keep the British public informed of events in Afghanistan for two decades had been “heavily dependent on the loyalty and commitment of journalists, translators and Afghan support personnel ”.

However, many more cases are emerging of Afghans who have worked with UK institutions but are struggling to find their way to the UK. The Observer understands that more than 80 Afghans who have worked with the British Council, the quango that promotes British interests through education and culture, say they have been left in diplomatic limbo. Some are in hiding after the Taliban quickly returned to power, having been unable to secure places under a refugee visa program for people who supported the British mission in Afghanistan.

Many Afghans, who have worked to teach English or encourage education, say they have yet to be contacted by British authorities, and many fear they will be left behind. The government has said British Council workers are eligible for the scheme, but some of those still in the country say they have been told they are not and are struggling to reach UK officials.

Their former British colleagues fear that some who have not worked directly for the British Council, but on programs outside Kabul, will be treated differently. They are trying to use the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap), a rapid relocation program for people threatened by the Taliban for their ties to the UK, run by the Department of Defense.

Activists warn that the British Council, headquartered at the British embassy in Kabul, is considered part of the British government by the Taliban. One of the former Afghan staff said: “We were told we were not eligible. Those who worked inside [the British Council] were qualified as eligible. Most … who worked in the provinces were called ineligible and some of them have not yet received an email.

“When will we receive a positive response? My situation is getting worse and worse. I am extremely sad for my life and my family.

More … than 100,000 people signed a petition calling for the group to be given a place in the refugee program. Colleagues of those stranded are also calling for a public inquiry into how evacuation decisions were made, complaining about a lack of clarity on who will be covered by the UK’s fast-track program. Some Afghans who had been rejected were recently asked to provide their contact details.

Hywel Coleman, a former British Council consultant, said 83 Afghan staff and consultants said they had not yet been contacted. At least a third are women. “We have lost touch with 10 over the past week and fear the worst, but we believe there is still a window of opportunity to hopefully save them all,” he said. . “A public inquiry is needed into how this situation came to be, and lessons must be learned when the British Council hires local staff and consultants, especially in dangerous locations. “

Around 25 former Afghan staff and consultants to the British Council based at its Kabul headquarters have been offered relocation to the UK, and most of them have already been evacuated. A government spokesperson said: ‘Our officials are working as quickly as possible to get more people to safety in the UK. British Council staff are eligible for the Afghan Resettlement and Assistance Policy.

The British Council said it was working with the Ministry of Defense to “explore all avenues of support available to ensure … all former and current colleagues are given the highest possible consideration”, adding: “The safety of all people involved in our work is our greatest concern. “


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