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Case of former BBC journalists left behind in Afghanistan before the High Court this week

Former BBC journalists who were left behind in Afghanistan when British troops evacuated will make their case at the High Court on Thursday 15 December.

Posted on 14 December 2022

The eight journalists worked for the BBC and other agencies supporting the British military in Afghanistan, exposing Taliban corruption and abuse, distributing information, and promoting media freedom, democracy and human rights.

After the military withdrawal, Kabul fell to the Taliban on 15 August 2021, putting these journalists at escalated risk. The then Foreign Secretary promised safety to Afghan journalists under threat from the Taliban based on their association with the UK. They were recognised as particularly vulnerable having supported UK objectives.

While some journalists were relocated to the UK, this group of BBC journalists were not. Their applications under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) went unanswered for almost a year and were only decided after a legal challenge was brought. The Government conceded the case and issued an apology for the failure to progress their applications, one case having been lost in the system entirely. A review was promised to prevent recurrence.

Far from making decisions to grant the journalists safety, they were then refused on the basis that they did not meet the eligibility criteria for relocation.

The group of journalists say there is clear and compelling evidence that they did meet the relevant criteria for relocation under ARAP, including that of contributing to the objectives of the UK Government in Afghanistan. No justification has been given for rejecting the supporting evidence provided. It has been revealed that at least 100 Afghan journalists have been moved to the UK during and after Operation Pitting, a decision that appears inconsistent with the refusals in these cases.

The group also asked the Government to consider granting them visas under discretionary powers for exceptional cases, but those requests have been refused, without explanation.

The Government was asked to reconsider the refusals and to urgently relocate the group to the UK. Judicial review proceedings have been expedited and are listed for a rolled-up hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice on 15 December 2022.

The journalists are represented by Erin Alcock in the human rights department at law firm Leigh Day.

Leigh Day lawyer Erin Alcock said:

“HMG has stated it owes a debt of gratitude to those Afghans who helped the British in Afghanistan. Our clients are a group of Afghan nationals who worked in prominent journalist roles for the BBC and other agencies in Afghanistan. Their work supported the British military, exposed Taliban misconduct and the drugs trade, promoted media freedom and supported democracy and human rights. This work put their lives at risk when the Taliban were retreating, and puts them at grave risk even more so now that the Taliban control Afghanistan. Our clients feel that by refusing to relocate them and their families to safety in the UK, HMG has turned its back on them.

“Our clients’ cases have been plagued with mismanagement. An earlier judicial review claim brought by the group settled over the summer, with HMG issuing an apology for the way in which some of the applications had failed to be progressed at all, a failure that was not identified until well into the proceedings. This was despite repeated requests for updates, and reports of the risks they faced, including details of attacks on some within the group who have been beaten, tortured and shot at by the Taliban while waiting to be relocated.

“HMG defends the current judicial review proceedings and claims that because the BBC is independent of HMG, the claimants are not eligible under the ARAP scheme. This is based on a misunderstanding of its own policy, Category 4 of which considers whether an individual worked alongside and in support of HMG’s objectives in Afghanistan. The British mission in Afghanistan was not only about winning on the battlefield, but included promoting democracy, accountability in governance, exposing the drugs trade and encouraging public participation and freedom of expression, all of which our clients’ work supported.”

Erin Alcock
Human rights Judicial review

Erin Alcock

Erin is an associate in the human rights team

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