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Nepali security guards who protected British in Afghanistan now face deportation

Many Nepali security guards were airlifted from Kabul after Taliban takeover (Pic. Courtesy Twitter/@W0lverineupdate)

KATHMANDU: Nepali security guards who protected British embassy staff in Afghanistan, and who were airlifted to safety in the UK in August 2021, are now in detention and facing deportation, a UK media report said on Tuesday.

Thirteen security guards – 11 Nepali and two Indians – were brought to the UK as Kabul fell to the Taliban. Some were granted indefinite leave to remain while others have been awaiting decisions, The Guardian newspaper reported.

One of the Nepali security guards, Bam Bahadur Gurung, a 37-year-old Nepali man, worked in Afghanistan for more than a decade, first as a security guard and later as a supervising guard at the British and Canadian embassies in Kabul.

He received confirmation on 17 February 2022 that his application for permanent immigration status in the UK had progressed and biometrics were being arranged so his application could be progressed as quickly as possible. However, in June 2022 he received an email from the government’s Afghan Resettlement Team saying that his evacuation had been “a gesture of goodwill” and that he was not deemed eligible to stay in the UK as part of the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme.

On 27 March 2023 Gurung was among the group rounded up by the Home office, then arrested and detained.

“I was getting ready for work when I was arrested. I am in a state of shock and am very sad about what the UK has done to me,” The Guardian quoted Gurung in its report as saying, speaking from Brook House immigration removal centre near Gatwick airport. “I helped to protect British embassy staff in Kabul for many years. None of us have criminal records. My dream is to remain in the UK and serve in the British army.”

He said that some of the group had been told by Home Office officials they would be forcibly removed from the UK on 11 April.

While there have been cases of people who helped the British government in Afghanistan being forced into hiding because the UK has not evacuated them, these are thought to be the first cases in which people airlifted to safety and started on the path to resettlement in the UK have had their leave to remain cancelled.

Before working in Afghanistan, Gurung was a soldier in the Nepali military and also worked in Iraq. In Afghanistan he was employed by an external security company and lived in the same compound as British and Canadian staff. Some of his colleagues were killed in a direct attack on security guards in June 2016 by a Taliban suicide bomber who killed 13 Nepalese and two Indian security guards.

After his evacuation Gurung was given hotel accommodation in London, eventually settling in a hotel in Fulham alongside 150 people evacuated under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme.

Until his arrest and detention he was working at this hotel, receiving a salary and paying UK taxes. He was given an employee of the month award in March.

At least two of those rounded up and detained had been granted indefinite leave to remain by the government.

Jamie Bell of Duncan Lewis solicitors, who is representing Gurung and another Nepalese man in the same situation, told the Guardian “These men risked their lives working to protect the British embassy in Kabul. They were lawfully evacuated to the UK and were led to believe that they were to be granted permanent residence in the UK. Instead, after being allowed to build a life in the UK, they have been betrayed and detained. Those responsible should be ashamed of how they have been treated.”

Responding to The Guardian’s query, a UK government spokesperson said: “We remain committed to providing protection for vulnerable and at-risk people fleeing Afghanistan and so far have brought around 24,500 people impacted by the situation back to the UK.”

Officials in Nepal declined to comment on the report saying that they are yet to get details. However, an official at Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the UK government must provide full protection to Nepali security guards who have sacrificed a lot for the UK government over the years.

Many Nepalis worked as security guards at various diplomatic missions in Kabul. Of them dozens lost their lives due to terrorist attacks. On June 20, 2015, at least 15 Nepali security guards were killed when the Taliban attacked the bus taking them from the living compound to the Canadian Embassy in Kabul.

(Santosh Ghimire is India Narrative’s Nepal correspondent based in  Kathmandu)