More than 100 Nepali guards who risked their lives to protect British embassy staff in Afghanistan before the Taliban seized back control were secretly returned to Nepal against their wishes shortly after being airlifted to safety in the UK, the Guardian can reveal.
Hundreds of Nepali nationals and a smaller number of Indian nationals who protected key institutions in Kabul were brought to the UK on an RAF flight during the chaotic evacuation of the Afghan capital by western countries in August 2021, as victorious Taliban forces closed in.
It has now emerged that days after they arrived in the UK, more than 100 of these evacuees were forcibly removed to their home countries even though many had been issued with six-month visas on arrival.
The Guardian has interviewed some of the deported guards, who believed their lives were in danger in Nepal. Some were forcibly removed from hotel rooms in the UK in areas including Northampton, Reading, Oxford and Swindon before completing what at the time was a mandatory 10-day period of Covid-19 pandemic hotel quarantine for new arrivals in the UK.
Nepal was designated as a red-list country, with UK government instructions that people should not travel there, when the former guards were flown back in 2021.
Some have managed to find their way back to the UK since 2021 and have claimed asylum.
In March, at least 10 Nepali guards who protected the British embassy staff in Kabul and were still living in the UK were arrested in a raid at their west London hotel and detained by the Home Office.
After the detentions came to light, the Home Office issued a statement saying that the removals of those detained had been paused “pending further review”. It said the evacuees were flown from Kabul as “a gesture of goodwill” with the understanding that they were expected to return to their home countries.
More than 100 of those forcibly removed from the UK have written to Rudra Dhakal, a British resident of Nepali heritage who is supporting them, with the Home Office, Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence, Nepalese government and UNHCR copied in, in a letter titled “Urgent appeal for further humanitarian protection in the UK”.
The deported guards wrote: “We were misled by the UK border security force. Therefore they forcefully deported us to Nepal against our will. At the time of our deportation we were never given the choice of staying in the UK for further humanitarian protection.”
Dhakal, who is continuing to support the guards, said: “These bravest of the brave veterans said they provided frontline security … but they were left behind in the end. They were used as proxies on the frontline of the war.”
One of those deported is Deepak Punmagar, 42. “We were always under threat in Afghanistan,” he told the Guardian. “We didn’t know if we would survive. When I arrived in the UK I felt safe but I was deported to Nepal on 17 August.”
Some of the Nepali guards evacuated from Kabul in 2021 who were doing almost identical work in Afghanistan as those forcibly removed were granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK, including two of the 10 arrested in March, who remain in immigration detention.
Jamie Bell, of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, who is representing some of those currently detained, said: “These brave men were evacuated from Afghanistan and thereafter had their applications for permanent leave prepared and processed in the UK. They were never told of a gesture of goodwill and there was no understanding that they were liable to removal, let alone detained after a morning raid on their hotel. It is deeply concerning now to hear how many have been affected by this appalling situation.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We remain committed to providing protection for vulnerable and at-risk people fleeing Afghanistan and so far we have brought around 24,500 people to safety in the UK.
“A number of Nepalese nationals who were not deemed eligible for consideration under ACRS [the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme] were evacuated from Afghanistan as a gesture of goodwill. This came with the understanding that once in the UK, these individuals would arrange and be offered support for onward travel to the country of their nationality.”
The Nepalese embassy has been approached for comment.