Foreign AffairsSpeeches

Fabian Hamilton – 2022 Speech on British Council Contractors in Afghanistan

The speech made by Fabian Hamilton, the Labour MP for Leeds North East, in the House of Commons on 12 December 2022.

I again thank the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) for securing this urgent question. He has been a great champion of the British Council in this place. We know that hundreds of British Council contractors are still stranded in Afghanistan following this Government’s botched evacuation from Kabul. Earlier this year, the Minister told the House that the Government were “supporting those in need” and that 50 British Council contractors had been evacuated. However, a recent report in The Guardian indicated that, as the hon. Gentleman said, the Government had not granted a single ACRS application since the programme was opened—not one. Furthermore, fewer than 10 staff are currently working on the scheme at the FCDO.

I am contacted frequently by British Council contractors who are suffering terribly, and I would be grateful if the Minister would allow me to raise these cases with him privately. Many of those that are still in Afghanistan are former security guards who protected British staff at the embassy, and they undertook an extremely difficult task during the evacuation in August last year. We owe so much to those courageous British Council contractors, and the fact that they are still in Afghanistan and facing daily violence and threats as a result of their co-operation with the UK is nothing short of a disgrace.

The last time I put these questions to the Government, answers were not forthcoming, so I am hopeful that this time I might be able to get some clarity. Can the Minister tell us how many former British Council contractors are still stuck in Afghanistan, what measures are being put in place to evacuate the rest of the British Council contractors still stranded in Afghanistan and what engagement he has had with regional partners to facilitate safe passage for British Council staff who attempt to leave? And message does it send to other British Council contractors who work in challenging environments around the world if the UK Government will leave these contractors stranded in this way?

Mr Mitchell

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and he is quite right to express deep concern about those who are caught in this way. He asks me whether he may raise cases privately with me, and of course the answer is yes. I will make arrangements for those meetings to take place straight after this urgent question is over. He asks a number of questions, and if I do not answer them fully, I will ensure that we write to him. He is right to say that we keep in very good contact with regional partners in countries to try to advance this issue. This particular stream only opened in June this year. The Foreign Office has processed and is informing something in the region of 200 of those who are eligible in principle, and if the dependants are added to that, it is something like 750. So those are proceeding, and it is of course up to the Home Office to procure the necessary security clearance prior to them securing entry clearance. So, the process is going on, but I fully accept his frustration—it is a frustration we all share in this matter—and as I say, perhaps we can proceed with a private meeting, as he has requested.