Lawyers and MPs rally to help two Afghan women who are ‘at risk of death’ from Taliban forces
The UK government is facing legal action over its failure to respond to requests for help from a progressive female Afghan MP and a leading woman judge who are both in hiding in Afghanistan and fearing for their lives.
British lawyers have sent a warning letter to ministers stating that if they do not issue visas for the two women by 2pm on Wednesday they will launch an emergency legal challenge to “compel them to do so”.
The women, who cannot be named to protect their identities, have been trying to seek help from the government for more than two weeks but to no avail.
Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani who has been supporting the two women told The Independent they had been “let down” by the British government, describing the situation as “shameful”.
The Afghan MP, who has criticised the Taliban publicly, told The Independent that the day after she and her family fled from their home in mid-August, their neighbours informed them that the Taliban had been to their house and, on finding her absent, hung their dog.
“I’m afraid of what they would do to me and my family. I feel betrayed and let down. Hundreds of thousands left but most of the high-profile women I know are still here. We couldn’t rush to the airport because we would be recognised. I’m not sleeping, I’m losing weight,” she said.
The second woman, a judge who was working on the protection of women’s rights in the country, said that a number of the Taliban whom she helped to imprison for using violence against their wives, threatened to “destroy” her on their release.
“I am hiding with my family in terrible conditions. I have heard of judges already being executed by the Taliban and we are very frightened. Already, one of my brothers has gone missing and we are very worried about him,” she added.
“I therefore call on the British government to work together to issue the visas to save me and my family. Please save us.”
Lawyers say there is “little doubt” that the women and their families are entitled to a UK visa under both the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap), designed to evacuate those who have supported British efforts, and the Afghanistan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), aimed at helping those most at risk, such as women and girls.
However, they were not relocated during Britain’s evacuation operations, which ended on 30 August. The women feared going to Kabul airport due to the fact that they would be recognisable to Taliban members.
The warning letter, sent to the Home Office, the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury solicitor on Tuesday morning, calls on ministers to issue the women with the necessary visas to enable them to cross the Afghan border to Pakistan or Uzbekistan, warning that their “lives are at stake”.
“Should the visas not be issued now, the opportunity to safely bring our clients to the UK is likely to be lost forever for two overlapping reasons: first, the ability to safely extract them may be lost,” it read.
“Secondly, the Taliban may succeed in tracking them down, in which case the result will almost inevitably be their deaths […] We urge you to act speedily.”
Daniel Berke, director of 3D Solicitors, who is helping to represent the female MP, said: “It is lamentable that it comes down to a group of lawyers to have to get together to try to persuade the government to do what it should be obliged to do. No one seems to be taking responsibility.
“These are the brightest and the best and the very sort of people who tried their best to rebuild Afghanistan, but they’re in hiding, God knows where, and they’re struggling to go out for food.”
Michael Polak, barrister for both women, said: “These are women who have spent their careers fighting for women’s rights and against corruption. There is no time to spare, and we ask that those with the ability to do so issue visas for these incredibly brave women immediately.”
It comes the Taliban has celebrated the end of two decades of American military involvement in Afghanistan by posing for photos at Kabul airport and by firing gunshots into the air throughout the city.
Ms Ghani said: “These women have spent all of their lives either being brutalised by the Taliban or fighting the Taliban. They would be a great asset to our country. They would do everything they can to help rebuild their country too. We need to keep them alive. It’s that simple,” she said.
“But now these women are surviving hour by hour. Why would any woman have confidence in working with us and putting their neck on the line again? It’s shameful.”
Meanwhile, chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Yvette Cooper, called on the Home Office to confirm that the UK was still trying help families to whom it has an obligation to evacuate from Afghanistan.
“There are still many people who helped the UK’s work in Afghanistan who remain at serious risk from the Taliban […] We must ensure that those who worked with or for the UK government have a route to safety,” she said.
The government has been approached for comment.