Tuesday, December 7

Kabul embassy guards said they are not eligible for UK protection | Afghanistan


More than 100 guards at the British embassy in Kabul have been told they are ineligible for UK government protection because they were hired through an outsourced contractor, The Guardian has learned.

Most of the 125-person security staff employed by global security firm GardaWorld have received an informal notice that they no longer have embassy surveillance jobs, several said.

The guards, some of whom had worked for the UK embassy for more than a decade, described feeling neglected by British officials and their employer. Many have been forced into hiding, fearing for their lives.

Meanwhile, more than 100 guards doing the same work for the US embassy, ​​under a separate GardaWorld contract, were evacuated and others were receiving support from the US embassy, ​​according to a senior Afghan employee of GardaWorld in charge of human resources.

On Saturday night, at the end of a long shift to help British diplomats reach Kabul airport so they could flee after the Afghan capital fell to the Taliban, several British embassy guards said they were told by phone that since the embassy was now closed their services would no longer be needed. They were asked to return computers, bulletproof vests and radios.

A guard said a British expatriate GardaWorld operations manager told him on Friday that his contract was going to be terminated. “He said: ‘There will no longer be a GardaWorld project with the embassy; their jobs are gone. He himself left Afghanistan the next morning… No one asked if we are safe or not. No one asked if our lives were in danger or not. “

Oliver Westmacott, president of GardaWorld Middle East operations, said no formal termination letters had been sent, but added: “The reality is that on Saturday, when the contract was demobilized, we sent people home. We will honor people’s wages, certainly up to the date they stopped working, and we fully intend to give people a final bonus or severance payment.

“We need to get the agreement of our clients, namely the British Foreign Office, on what the notice period will be, otherwise we are materially out of our pocket.” On Thursday night, a guard said they had been informed that their pay would continue for now.

Almost all 160 GardaWorld employees working on the British embassy contract requested help from the Afghan Assistance and Relocation Policy (Arap) run by the Ministry of Defense, designed to help people working for UK organizations, and all but 21 translators were rejected last month. They received letters explaining that they were ineligible because “they were not directly employed by Her Majesty’s Government.” “We realize this will be disappointing news,” the letters read.

The GardaWorld team provided all security to the British embassy in Afghanistan as part of their ‘British embassy project in Kabul’, including offices, accommodation and outside visits. Most of the guards are men, but around 10 are women, responsible, among other things, for searching female visitors at the embassy. The security of all British embassies worldwide was outsourced decades ago.

A GardaWorld human resources manager said he was asked to prepare dismissal letters for many of the Kabul embassy guards last week, but the process was interrupted by the arrival of the Taliban.

The guards, four of whom gave detailed telephone interviews to the Guardian, hope that the UK government will reconsider its decision to reject their applications for Arap.

“We have been doing very dangerous work for the British embassy and we are in terrible shape. We are known as British embassy staff; our lives are now at risk, ”said a guard. Another added: “We work in front-line positions, doing the most dangerous work to keep British officials safe. We risked our lives for them, and now we find ourselves in this bad situation, not only we, but our families are at risk ”.

The guards have written to the UK government asking to be included on the relocation list. “Contractors are human too; Think of them as humans, ”they wrote, saying that their works were“ on display and in public view ”and were skeptical of the Taliban’s promises of an amnesty for people working for foreign organizations.

The UK’s rejection has been compounded by the apparent termination of their contracts, leaving many concerned about how they will support their families.

Several former guards have spent the past three days queuing outside Kabul airport in hopes of being able to speak to the small team of British officials still managing evacuation plans inside.

GardaWorld describes itself as the world’s largest international diplomatic security provider in complex and high-threat environments. It also provides security for the British embassy in Baghdad and embassy security services for more than 40 countries.

When asked if the embassy guards were still GardaWorld employees, Westmacott said: “Technically they are because we have not formally communicated with them to the contrary. … I fully appreciate the situation in which all these poor people of ours find themselves, in desperate situations trying to order their lives and get to safety. So it’s a nightmare. We fully recognize it. “

He said he has been working with the industry body, Security in Complex Environments Group, to try to help the guards.

The Defense Ministry said the guards could reapply for the relocation plan. A spokesman said: “No one’s life should be put at risk because they supported the UK government in Afghanistan. In the last few weeks alone, more than 2,000 Afghan staff and family members have been relocated to start a new life in the UK.

“We have significantly expanded and accelerated the relocation plan and carefully screen each applicant to determine their eligibility and safety. Those who were fired for serious offenses, including those that constitute a crime in the UK or threaten the safety of British troops, will continue to be excluded. “

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said: “We are clear that there is absolutely no legitimate basis to prevent civilians from traveling to safety. We are closely monitoring the situation with GardaWorld and are in contact with them to provide the necessary assistance. ”


www.theguardian.com

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