A group of Afghan journalists who have worked closely with the British media for years have revealed how they face beatings, death threats and hiding for months, accusing the government of failing to live up to its promise to bring them to Britain.
After fighting unsuccessfully for permission to travel to Britain since the return of Taliban rule last summer, the eight journalists are now taking legal action against the government. They have applied for a judicial review after waiting months for their applications to move to the UK to be processed. They report that they only receive standard reply emails from the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) program.
Members of the group told that observer They had worked with British media, covering operations against the Taliban, programs to rebuild Afghan infrastructure, women’s rights and the fight against drug trafficking. They said that since the Taliban takeover, they have received warnings that they are being targeted.
In the chaos of the evacuation from Kabul last summer, the government announced that it would exempt Afghan journalists who had worked with British media and their families from visa requirements. Then-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said at the time: “We must protect these brave Afghan journalists who have worked so bravely to shed light on what is really going on in Afghanistan.” if there is an “imminent threat to life”.
One of the group, Abas*, worked with the UK media for many years and had hoped to come to the UK months ago. But nine months after the Taliban rushed back to power, he remains trapped and seriously endangered.
After being subjected to attempted kidnappings and shootings, he now moves regularly and lives apart from his family for their safety.
With tears running down his face, he shared how he only sees his wife and children every few weeks to get fresh clothes and money. “I’m in some kind of trauma,” he told the observer. “There is a group of us that the UK government needs to help. I never had a single night without worries at home with my family.”
Abas was once shot while he was sitting in a garden. On another occasion, a car stopped and men with covered faces got out and began beating him. “They hit me on the head – there was blood all over my body,” he said. “I don’t know why they didn’t drag me into the car – I think others helped me.”
He was also threatened for collaborating with foreign media. “They said, ‘We already have a warrant to kill you.’ I think I’m on these people’s target list and maybe one day they’ll find me.”
“Unfortunately, we are already facing very serious threats. We don’t want to wait until 2024 to exit. i have no sleep Day by day my sleep is getting less. Today it’s two hours, three hours – nothing else. Another journalist in the group, Bidar*, said he had become a virtual refugee because of his connections to foreign media. Family members were attacked. He, too, believes he is on a Taliban hit list.
“The Taliban and other extremists speak openly against those associated with the British media,” he said. “They say we’re spies. The Taliban sent me warnings. So I tried many times to persuade British officials to help me move. The UK government promised that those connected to the UK media would be eligible to attend. What happened that they forgot about us and don’t hear our voices?”
The lawsuit comes just days after the Special Committee on Foreign Affairs called Britain’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan a “disaster” last summer. At the time of revocation, the observer revealed that many calls for help to the government went unread, including cases highlighted by senior MPs.
Erin Alcock, Leigh Day’s lawyer representing the group, said: “In August it was promised that Afghan journalists working for British media organizations who faced an imminent threat would be relocated to the UK. Not only has that promise not been fulfilled, but nine months later our customers still have no idea when they will even get a response.”
Government officials are believed to have been unable to identify formal requests from some members of the group. A spokesman said: “We cannot comment on individual arap applications… However, since the program began we have relocated over 9,200 applicants and their dependents to the UK. This program remains open and … we are processing applications as quickly as possible.”
*Names have been changed.