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Afghan journalists commence legal proceedings against unacceptable delays to claims for relocation to UK

Afghan journalists living in terror of the Taliban because of their former work with the British media have filed an application for judicial review after waiting months without their applications to relocate to the UK being processed.

Posted on 24 May 2022

A group of eight journalists made applications for urgent relocation to the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) when the Taliban seized Kabul and the British army joined in the US airlift last August.

The Foreign Secretary stated in August 2021 that Afghan journalists who have worked for British media at risk from the Taliban due to their association with the UK will be considered for relocation on an exceptional basis.

However, the pleas for safety in the UK from the group have gone unanswered in the nine months since their urgent applications were made. They have received no substantive response or anything beyond mere acknowledgements of their online application forms. This is despite the Ministry of Defence stating in response to a written question in Parliament that applications may be expedited in cases where there is credible evidence of unusually high and imminent threat to life.

Represented by law firm Leigh Day, the group wrote to the ARAP casework team in February 2022 to request that their applications be processed urgently, stressing that they are living at serious and immediate risk of harm or death. Having received no response to that letter, Leigh Day sent a pre-action letter threatening legal proceedings against the Government for their failure to process the applications. The Government’s response, still refused to deal with the group’s applications urgently or within any given timeframe.

The details of each case provided in legal correspondence and documents to the Government cannot be made public because of the grave risks the journalists face. However these documents tell how the Taliban have been searching for the journalists, delivering threats, and adding their names to a list of people they are seeking to execute. Violent attacks, detention, and torture have already been carried out by the Taliban against some of the individuals and their family members.

During the weeks following the Taliban takeover of Kabul, group members sent numerous emails to the UK government email addresses seeking evacuation, but received no assistance. Despite being a registered applicant, one response from the ARAP casework team to one of these individuals was that only registered applicants could be assisted.

This frustrating battle with red tape typifies that of the other individuals in the group, who say they feel abandoned by the British Government despite their pledges to protect the families of those Afghan nationals who had helped in the effort to rebuild Afghanistan after the Taliban were quelled. Whistle-blowers testimony has also told of chaotic or no processing of ARAP applications.

The members of the group worked with British media reporting on British operations against the Taliban and the efforts to rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure and education system, uphold the rights of women and girls, and the fight to eradicate the drugs trade.

The delay in considering the applications of these high-risk journalists and the failure to consider their applications flies in the face of Foreign Secretary’s promise to relocate such journalists in recognition of their bravery and the risk they face from the Taliban as a result of their association with the British.

The risk to journalists in Afghanistan of attacks, killing, torture, and grave human rights violations by the Taliban has been recognised at UN level, in reliable NGO and journalistic reports, as well as the Home Office’s own Afghanistan policy information note.

Leigh Day lawyer Erin Alcock, who represents the group, said:

“The situation for our clients only gets worse: they are seen as traitors by the Taliban and are in constant fear for their lives. All have been subject to threats by the Taliban and many of them have experienced attempts on their lives, shootings, arbitrary detention, torture, and kidnap, some very recently. Journalists perform a crucial role in society and in upholding free speech. Because of this role, our clients’ lives are now at risk.

“It is now approaching nine months since the general evacuation efforts and yet our clients have seen no evidence of a functioning system for processing applications. Instead, they have experienced an incredibly opaque system, with no updates or timeframes for responses, under circumstances in which they cannot go outside for risk of death. Sadly, this group are not the only clients we represent who are stuck in limbo waiting for their applications to be decided, despite receiving direct threats and attempts on their lives. These delays are wholly unacceptable.”

The individuals are represented by Leigh Day together with Adam Straw QC, Catherine Meredith and Donnchadh Greene of Doughty Street Chambers.

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Erin Alcock
Judicial review

Erin Alcock

Erin is a lawyer in the human rights team

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Waleed Sheik

Waleed Sheikh

Waleed Sheikh is a partner in the human rights department.

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