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LONDON: The UK government has been warned against letting Afghans who worked and fought alongside British and coalition forces be deported to Rwanda. 

Members of the House of Lords are debating new legislation proposed to allow asylum-seekers who arrive in the UK illegally to be removed to the East African state for processing.

On Monday, peers rejected the government’s attempts to have Rwanda declared a safe country until certain safeguards are met.

In 2023, the UK Supreme Court ruled the Rwanda plan unlawful, but Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pressed ahead, including trying to assert that the country is safe via legislation so as not to “frustrate the will of the (British) people.”

The Lords are also discussing changes to the legislation, proposed by former Defence Secretary Lord Browne of Ladyton, to exempt Afghans with a history of service alongside UK counterparts. Peers are due to vote on the amendments on Wednesday.

The Illegal Migration Act, given assent on July 20, 2023, states that illegal migrants who entered the UK after that date must be removed, and that asylum cannot be given to anyone who entered the country illegally on or after March 7 that year.

Lord Browne’s changes would mean foreign nationals who helped the UK Armed Forces overseas in an “exposed or meaningful manner,” or were “employed by or indirectly contracted to provide services to the UK government in an exposed or meaningful manner,” would be exempt, along with their families.

Lord Carlile, a former terrorism legislation reviewer, called the amendments “just, fair and required.”

He told The Independent: “If it is put to the vote, there will be a lot of support for not sending people who worked with Britain in Afghanistan to Rwanda — provided peers are satisfied it is drawn in a way which would not allow for people to use the system illegitimately.

“Obviously, we want to help genuine Afghans who would be in real trouble if, via Rwanda, they were returned to Afghanistan.”

He added: “We have to understand that the House of Lords cannot simply wreck government legislation, we are not trying to do that.

“But if there is something that is just and fair and required, then we will say to the government, ‘this is not acceptable.’”

The former chief of the UK’s general staff, Gen. Lord Dannatt, has also said he supports the proposed amendments, alongside former diplomat Tim Willasey-Wilsey, who told The Independent: “It is imperative that the House of Commons should accept Lord Browne’s amendment.”

Conservative MP Julian Lewis, former chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, told The Independent: “I’m very sympathetic to rescuing Afghans at risk for having helped the UK Nato/Isaf forces to fight the Taliban.

“Provided that their specific service background can be verified by our MoD (Ministry of Defence) and/or individual veterans, it ought to be possible for them to apply to come here from the first safe country they reach, and it should not be necessary for them to make a risky and illegal Channel crossing.”

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