Afghanistan interpreter told his British citizenship bars family from UK visa

<span>The Guardian has pixelated this image to protect the identity of ‘Muhammad’ a former interpreter for British forces.</span><span>Photograph: No credit</span>
The Guardian has pixelated this image to protect the identity of ‘Muhammad’ a former interpreter for British forces.Photograph: No credit

A former interpreter for British forces in Afghanistan has had his application to bring his wife and three children to the UK rejected – because he has British citizenship.

When US and Nato forces withdrew from Afghanistan in August, Muhammad* received a message marked “urgent” from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) telling him and his family to go to the Baron hotel in Kabul for “processing prior to evacuation”.

However, an explosion at the airport meant that they could not get there and subsequent attempts to get his family to the UK have been rejected.

Related: Afghan former interpreter with British army resettles in UK after legal battle

Having worked as an interpreter and cultural adviser for British forces for more than a decade, putting a potential target on his back in the eyes of the Taliban, Muhammad applied for his wife and children to join him under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy scheme, open to people who worked with or for UK forces.

But the Ministry of Defence sent him a letter in January last year rejecting his application because he is a British citizen.

Muhammad said: “They penalise me for being British. I can’t explain to you what I am suffering, I have tears in my eyes. I have been working with these people shoulder to shoulder, we helped them.

“Where can I go? I have been working, I have documents, I have ID cards, I have certificates, I have videos patrolling with many of the foreign troops. I’m eligible in my heart but if the system does not accept you, what can you do?”

His case highlights the impact of a lack of safe legal routes available to refugees coming to the UK. Muhammad would have to pay more than £20,000 – which he does not have – in visas and temporary accommodation to come to the UK. If he tried to bring his family over illegally, his wife would face being sent to Rwanda under the legislation that Rishi Sunak says will be passed on Monday, as Afghans are not exempt from the Rwandan deportation scheme.

Muhammad also applied for his family to come to the UK under the Home Office’s Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme (ACRS) but in June last year he was told his wife and children were not eligible under pathway three because they were not “at-risk Chevening [a scholarship programme supporting study at UK universities] alumni”.

When the office of his MP, Stella Creasy, queried the response, the Home Office said Muhammad’s wife and children were not considered under pathway one of ACRS for “vulnerable and at-risk individuals” because they were not listed as “called forward” for evacuation from Afghanistan, despite the message he received from the FCDO.

The Home Office said the message received by Muhammad was “not a call forward instruction, it is an invitation to come to the Baron hotel to process their request”.

Muhammad’s family have managed to make their way to Belgium but for now have no prospect of getting to the UK. “I left my job, everything to come here [Belgium], because my family was here, my children were sick, they don’t have documents,” he said. “I came here to try to help them. First, they [British officials] said the people could come to Kabul airport, that was the promise, now everything has changed.”

He says solicitors have told him he could win a court case against the UK authorities but he does not have the money to pursue it.

“I believe if the judge sees my case they will be in my favour,” he said. “But if the system does not accept me, it’s a different story.”

A government spokesperson said: “It is longstanding government policy we do not comment on individual cases.

“We continue to honour our commitment to those brave Afghans that supported the UK mission in Afghanistan. So far, we have brought around 27,900 people to safety from Afghanistan, including over 16,300 people from the ARAP scheme, including over 3,900 since October 2023.”

*Names have been changed and images pixilated to protect identities