The supervisor of a team of 115 Afghan British embassy guards has cast doubt over claims from a UK government minister that the guards were in the process of being evacuated from Kabul.
Several guards expressed dismay after the armed forces minister James Heappey announced on the BBC that they had been taken by convoy to the airport for an evacuation flight.
“That is not true. We have had no news of an evacuation,” the team’s Kabul-based manager said. Several of the guards said they remained in hiding and had had no contact from British officials or GardaWorld, the company that employed them on contract to the embassy. “No one has been sent to escort us to the airport,” one said.
The Guardian reported on Thursday that most of the 125-member security team had been informed they were ineligible for the UK’s evacuation scheme because they had been hired through an outsourced contractor. The guards, many of whom have worked at the embassy for more than 10 years, had also been given informal notice that they no longer had jobs after the embassy’s closure.
After a backlash, however, Heappey suggested they had been brought to Kabul airport on Friday morning where UK and US forces were overseeing an evacuation. “My understanding is that the GardaWorld convoy, which is the contractors you are referring to, arrived at Kabul airport and they are indeed in the process of being evacuated,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Asked why their passage was ever in doubt, he replied: “I don’t know.”
Heappey may have been referring to a GardaWorld operation to evacuate several hundred expat staff, some British employees and some Indian and Nepalese ex-Gurkhas. About a dozen Afghan interpreters from the embassy were understood to be part of the evacuation, but none of the Afghan national British embassy guards were included in the escape convoy.
The confusion triggered criticism from the shadow cabinet. Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, said: “The government’s failure to provide sanctuary to those who bravely protected us is utterly reprehensible. Instead of sending out mixed messages, the government needs to get on with the immediate priority of ensuring safe evacuation out of Afghanistan for the thousands whose lives are depending on us.”
The shadow defence secretary, John Healey, said: “Ministers must urgently provide clarity for those Afghan guards. Refusing sanctuary to those who have protected our diplomatic staff would be reprehensible. The government have hours, not days, to get this right.”
Nearly all 160 GardaWorld employees working on the British embassy contract applied last month for help from the Ministry of Defence-run Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap), designed to assist people working for UK organisations, and all except 21 translators were rejected. They received letters explaining they were not eligible because they “were not directly employed by her majesty’s government”.
A local Afghan manager was asked at midnight last night by London-based GardaWorld staff to put together the names and passport details of all the Afghan-national staff who have worked on the British embassy contract. He worked into the night completing a new spreadsheet. “We’ve received no feedback yet. I’ve shared many lists, many times. This should all have been done weeks ago. We’re waiting for a response,” he said. “We are hoping they will take us.”
Oliver Westmacott, the president of GardaWorld’s Middle East operations, said staff were “working round the clock now with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to get all our local staff processed and hopefully out”.
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Defence said that although the guards were not all eligible for the Arap scheme, they could be eligible through other immigration schemes. The Foreign Office has been approached for comment.