LONDON (Reuters) – British officials told Afghans hiding from the Taliban they would need documents approved by the regime in Kabul to travel to Britain, an investigation by The Independent newspaper said.

Thousands of people are currently waiting for the opportunity to leave the country under the UK’s Afghanistan Resettlement and Assistance Policy scheme, but campaigners say the credentials policy requires them to “sign their own death warrant”.

Created after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August 2021, ARAP aims to provide safe passage and relocation to Afghans who worked with British forces and authorities in the country, as well as their families.

So far, 11,200 people have traveled to the UK under the scheme, but those numbers have fallen dramatically over time, dropping from 6,200 applications approved between July and September 2021 to just 743 in the last quarter of 2022.

The UK Ministry of Defense has apologized after The Independent revealed multiple examples of Abbreviated Resettlement Program (ARAP) applicants being asked to provide Taliban-approved documents, including birth and marriage certificates, which also needed to be translated into English.

A former translator who worked with British forces in Afghanistan was asked to get his forms approved by the country’s Foreign Office while he and his family were in hiding.

In an email sent to ARAP applicants, UK officials said: “We understand that some of you may have received messages from ARAP telling you to visit local authorities or the Foreign Office to obtain new documents to take you to the UK.

“If you have received one of these messages, it is incorrect, and we apologize for any misunderstanding or distress this message may have caused.”

The Department of Defense has estimated that there are about 4,600 ARAP-eligible individuals currently stuck in Afghanistan.

A previous military plan to evacuate Afghans after the government collapsed in August 2021, Operation Pitting, required people to provide documents “if you have them,” but campaigners say the Defense Department has beefed up its requirements for the ARAP plan.

The requirement to submit papers and certificates in English is particularly problematic, as that is not standard practice in Afghanistan, meaning any such document would need to go through the State Department – which could alert the Taliban to the whereabouts of people in hiding or hiding. their intent to flee.

Dr Sarah de Young, co-founder of the Sulha Alliance charity, said the UK government’s requirements highlight a lack of understanding of the situation in Afghanistan, adding that the Taliban have “frequently stopped” issuing children’s passports, making it even more difficult. For families to travel.

Sarah Fenby, of the NGO Global Witness, told The Independent: “The fact that Afghan interpreters, who risked their lives for the UK mission in Afghanistan, are still so far behind, despite having gained eligibility under the scheme Abbreviated resettlement, shameful.They are hiding, scared and unable to work to feed their children.

“The fact that ARAP is then asking them to take their documents to Taliban-controlled ministries for validation is totally unacceptable.”

UK MP Tobias Ellwood, chair of the House of Commons Defense Select Committee, said: “We need to ensure that our offers of protection are not compromised. We must do the right thing.”

Rep. Dan Jarvis, who served as a soldier in Afghanistan, said: “Asking our Afghan allies to get their papers approved by the Taliban State Department is like asking them to sign their own death warrant.

“These requests by the UK government show a complete disregard for the dangerous realities faced by eligible Afghans, driving desperate men into precarious situations.”

Fellow Labor John Healy, the party’s shadow defense secretary, said: “Britain has a moral duty to help and protect them. Ministers urgently need to reform the abbreviated resettlement scheme scheme – and speed up applications and transfers.”

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