Pregnant Afghan women may lose babies as UK delays their relocation

By News Desk
December 06, 2023

LONDON: Pregnant Afghan women who are eligible for resettlement in the UK have been told their babies may not survive unless they are urgently evacuated, reports a British newspaper.

The women, who worked for or are affiliated with the British Council, should be entitled to relocation through the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS). Despite Foreign Office and Home Office instructions to move to Pakistan and await relocation, they are stuck in hotels with limited access to medical care nearly two years after the scheme launched.

Meanwhile, on November 1, Pakistan began deporting undocumented people back to Afghanistan, with 1.7 million thought to be at risk of removal.

The former British Council teachers are among them, with many having spent up to £5,000 on passports and visas to reach Islamabad. While waiting for a response from the British government, their three-month visas have expired, meaning they could be arrested and deported back to Afghanistan.

Afghan refugees arrive from Pakistan at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in Spin Boldak district of Kandahar province on December 3, 2023. — AFP

One of those at risk is Mina, whose husband, Batoor, spoke to a newspaper last year after their two-year-old daughter Najwa died of cardiac arrest, liver failure and acute septicemia due to a lack of access to medical care. Mina, due to give birth in the next six weeks, has now discovered her unborn child has potentially fatal medical complications.

“The same experience is happening to us again,” Mina said. “If the British government had brought us to safety, our daughter would still be alive. Now I have doubts that this baby will be born safely here in Pakistan. I know that our baby would be cured of this condition if we were in the UK, but we are stuck here, our lives on hold. This situation is extremely distressing.”

Mina and her husband are living in a windowless hotel room in Islamabad, with frequent police raids in surrounding areas in which Afghans are rounded up, arrested and deported. They have been advised not to leave the hotel, making attendance at medical appointments particularly difficult.

“The Pakistani authorities are checking documents on the way to medical appointments. What if, on the way to see my doctor, I get arrested?” Mina said. “This adds so much pressure on us. I believe all those with emergency cases should be prioritised and put on the first plane to the UK.”

Shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said: “The prime minister has tried every trick in the book to wriggle his way out of his government’s longstanding commitment to all those Afghans who served British efforts in Afghanistan. It is only because the Pakistani government has threatened to send these vulnerable people back over the border into the hands of the Taliban that he has now been forced into this humiliating U-turn.

“It is deeply troubling that the so-called ‘Operation Warm Welcome for Afghans’ has become ‘Operation Cold Shoulder’ under this prime minister, and as more personal stories come to light, we are able to understand the human cost of his inaction.”

A British Council spokesperson said that the ACRS scheme is run by the UK government and it is not involved in decision-making. “We are incredibly concerned by the length of time it is taking for our former contractors’ applications to be progressed.

They have told us that they are living in increasingly desperate circumstances. We are deeply concerned for them and for their families’ welfare and wellbeing. We are pushing for urgent progress with senior contacts within the UK government.”

A government spokesperson said: “All those ARAP [Afghan relocations and assistance policy] and ACRS-eligible individuals being supported by HMG (His Majesty’s Government) in third countries have access to medical care, paid for by HMG. “The measures taken by HMG in Pakistan to try to ensure that ARAP- and ACRS-eligible individuals are protected against arrest and deportation also cover access to that medical care.”