EXCLUSIVE – UK Govt: ‘Not In Public Interest’ to Disclose How Many Afghan Evacuees Are Ex-Deportees or on Watch Lists

Afghan
WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

The British government has told Breitbart London it knows how many Afghans airlifted to the UK were on watch lists or had previously been deported from the country — but insists it is not in the public interest to reveal it.

Germany and Sweden — countries with a less than stellar reputation for being forthright about public safety issues linked to immigration — have both admitted that some of the Afghans they evacuated from Kabul during its fall to the Taliban turned out to be people they had previously deported, with German interior minister Horst Seehofer revealing that his country had taken in Afghan evacuees who were “high-calibre criminals”, some “relevant to security” and regarded as a “serious threat”.

Boris Johnson’s government has been less forthcoming about such issues, although reports have got out that at least one Afghan evacuee had been on Britain’s “no-fly” list and was seemingly airlifted in error. Another Afghan — a former special forces commando — was revealed to have been arrested in a dawn raid on the hotel he was hosted at not long after his arrival.

In the interests of greater public transparency, Breitbart London therefore asked the Home Office — the Prit Patel-led government department with broad responsibility for national security and immigration — to disclose precisely how many Afghan evacuees were “found to have previously been on ‘no-fly’ or ‘no-entry’ lists” or to “have previously been deported from the United Kingdom” under the Freedom of Information Act.

The request should have been answered within 20 days, but close to this statutory deadline the Home Office replied that it would be extending it in order to consider whether they could keep the information secret by applying a so-called public interest test — “used to balance the public interest in disclosure against the public interest in favour of withholding the information.”

A month later, the Home Office finally gave its answer, admitting “that the Home Office holds the information that you have requested” — but adding that “after careful consideration” it had decided it was not in the public interest to disclose it.

“The ‘public interest’ is not the same as what interests the public. In carrying out a PIT [Public Interest Test] we consider the greater good or benefit to the community as a whole if the information is released or not,” they patronisingly explained.

Specifically, the Home Office claimed that revealing how many ex-deportees and people on watch lists had been airlifted to Britain could somehow “provide insight into the operational capabilities of Border Force intelligence-based operations and systems.”

“Revealing this information, along with other pieces of information obtained under [the Freedom of Information Act], would potentially allow a picture of the intelligence resources available to Border Force,” they suggested — without explaining how — and then went on to raise the still-less explicable objection that disclosure could also “lead to the identification of the individuals concerned.”

Speaking to Breitbart London, Migration Watch UK chairman Alp Mehmet described the Home Office’s justification for the secrecy as “both baffling and disingenuous.”

“As a former immigration officer and diplomat who has worked at various British embassies over many years, I appreciate the sensitivities around giving too much information away, which might prove helpful to hostile groups or forces. In this case, I can’t for the life of me see how revealing just the number who have slipped through the net will give anything of value away,” Mr Mehmet said.

“It might of course show that border control is not what it should be, but even that is something of which the public need to be aware,” he added, remarking that efforts to “hide or disguise such facts undermines both our trust and confidence in officials, as well as in the government”.

Perhaps not coincidentally, it was recently revealed that government ministers’ special advisers — party political actors, not professional civil servants — have a role in vetting whether or not bureaucrats can disclose public information their masters might regard as “particularly sensitive”, in part so they can “be sighted on possible reaction or comment in the media.”

Further commenting on the refusal, Bow Group chairman Ben Harris-Quinney told Breitbart London that it is “the job of the Home Office to protect the British public, not every person in unfortunate circumstances on earth. For the Home Office to refuse to disclose to the public whether asylum seekers pose a security threat is a clear dereliction of that primary duty.”

“The Bow Group warned at the time that the scramble to fly thousands of Afghans to the UK following the disastrous military evacuation of Kabul posed a serious security risk,” added Harris-Quinney, who has previously warned that some of the people fleeing the Taliban will be from rival terrorist groups.

“At one point Afghan citizens were being loaded onto evacuation planes without any passport or identity checks, let alone detailed security checks,” he alleged.

The Home Office partially acknowledged this in its Freedom of Information response to Breitbart London, as we had also asked how many Afghan evacuees were found to have “forged documents and/or documents that [did] not belong to them.”

“We are aware that during the evacuation staff on the ground in Afghanistan identified asylum seekers who were in the possession of forged documents, or documents that did not belong to them,” they admitted, but went on to claim they could not provide numbers because “Border Force does not have access to the information.”

However, evacuees were not only checked (or not checked) on departure from Afghanistan, but also on arrival in the United Kingdom, with Border Force sources telling The Telegraph that “some Afghan evacuees had arrived at Heathrow with no documentation at all, while others carried forged papers”.

Breitbart London has therefore requested an internal review of the Home Office’s claim that it will not and cannot answer the questions which have been posed to it.

The government should have completed its internal review by November 19th but, as of the time of publication, Breitbart London has received no further substantive correspondence.

If the internal review does not produce results, an appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) — which can order a government department to comply with a reasonable request — will be made; a tactic that has proven fruitful in the past.

A separate Freedom of Information request was made concerning the potential relocation of members of the Afghan National Police (ANP) to the United Kingdom, and whether any measures had been put in place to vet them in light of the systemic child sexual abuse which has been reported among its ranks.

The Home Office’s response was vague, simply claiming that any such evacuees would be subject to “the same strict security checks as those resettled through other schemes” and alluding to “civil powers… and other measures to manage those who pose a threat to our national security” in general.

Asked whether it had “produced any reports, reviews, etc. related to potential child safeguarding issues with respect to the relocation of Afghans to the UK since the beginning of 2021” the Home Office admitted that it had not.

Follow Jack Montgomery on Twitter: @JackBMontgomery
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