‘Used and thrown’Nepali guards who protected British forces in Afghanistan still face unemployment and threat of deportation
Almost two years after the war in Afghanistan ended, Nepali security guards who worked to protect the British Embassy in Kabul are still largely unemployed, facing uncertainty, and some even being targeted for deportation.
One week after a raid which led to the arrest and detainment of 10 evacuees who served as guards at the British Embassy, international media attention has led the UK government to pause deportation processing and release some of the detained evacuees.
Throughout the war in Afghanistan, Nepali security guards served as the first lines of defence, protecting the lives of military personnel, officials, and citizens of foreign governments. They risked their lives and, in some cases, watched their friends die in the line of duty.
Many of the Nepali guards who worked at the British Embassy had faith that the UK government or their company, GardaWorld, would evacuate them safely – and they did. But their job security and income for the future of their families was completely lost.
Private defence contracting, the hiring of armed combat and security services by private companies, has become an increasingly common method to lower the costs of war and military interventions in the 21st century. The labour required for prolonged military interventions, such as the war in Afghanistan, is outsourced to countries such as Nepal, whose GDP relies heavily on remittances from foreign labour migration.
Given the legacy of the Gurkhas who have been serving in the British army for more than 200 years, international private security companies supplying labour to foreign embassies in Afghanistan looked mainly to Nepalis and Indians of Nepali descent to meet the security demands, as detailed in the book Under Contract: the Invisible Workers of America’s Global War.
According to the Department of Foreign Employment, approximately 12,500 Nepali migrant workers have received non-renewed, first-time labour permits for Afghanistan since 2001. Those who took informal routes are not included in this figure.
For Nepali guards, many of whom are retirees from the Nepal and Indian militaries, work in Afghanistan was lucrative. Many knew it would be dangerous but lack of opportunities with comparable salary in Nepal meant that they agreed to take on the job. This also benefited the private defence companies and governments that contracted them, as Nepali guards were willing to take lower salaries.
Niraj, an evacuee, explained that working in Afghanistan after retirement from the army meant that he could better support his family and give his children quality education. While the evacuees interviewed said that they were happy with the salary, they knew that it was lower than what was deserved considering the conditions, risks, and duties of the job.
As the Taliban advanced across new territories in Afghanistan, many of the Nepali guards still did not have a full picture of what was going on. It was not until a few hours before boarding a repatriation flight that they were told of the Taliban takeover.
Nepali guards who worked at the British Embassy in Kabul guarded the compound until the last minute, after most of the British forces and officials had already been evacuated. On 15 August 2021 they boarded a Royal Air Force plane to Dubai before reaching the UK.
Upon reaching the UK, they had received 6-month emergency visas and were placed in military housing facilities. While many returned to Nepal only two days after arriving in the UK, some were able to contact immigration lawyers and secure legal pathways to stay there.
Read also: Nepal and the Taliban’s second coming
All third country guards working at the British Embassy, including the Nepali guards who were recently targeted for deportation, had an opportunity for resettlement in the UK under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), as listed on the UK government website. The ACRS states that ‘the scheme will prioritise those who have assisted the UK efforts in Afghanistan...’
As GardaWorld contractors, Nepali security guards were eligible for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) status under Pathway 3 of the ACRS. The scheme states that ‘Pathway 3 was designed to offer a route to resettlement for those at risk who supported the UK and international community effort in Afghanistan’. However, this pathway was only open to GardaWorld contractors for the first year after evacuation.
It seems this opportunity for resettlement was not properly communicated to the Nepali guards. Now that the year of eligibility has passed, most missed their chance to gain ILR status. Those interviewed who did apply under the scheme were denied.
Things are not any better for those who returned to Nepal. In the rushed evacuations, Bibek, an evacuee who worked at the British Embassy, said that all of his belongings were lost, including his passport. Upon returning to Nepal, the guards explained, there was no follow up from GardaWorld, the British Embassy in Afghanistan, or the Government of Nepal. Those who lost their luggage or passports were not compensated or provided assistance in obtaining new documents.
Back in Nepal, the evacuees set up a Facebook group to combine their efforts in finding their lost luggage and gaining new employment. Together, they filed a formal application of complaint to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kathmandu.
The complaint had three requests: help find new employment opportunities either in Nepal or the UK, compensation for their lost luggage and documents, and compensation for loss of income. Only some were able to receive compensation for loss of income due to abrupt repatriation after negotiating with the company.
Juddha, a Nepali evacuee, described the company as being reluctant to provide loss of income compensation, despite it being promised in employment contracts. The evacuees did not receive any follow-up communication regarding the application of complaint they submitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs either. Out of the 111 Nepali guards working at the British Embassy in Afghanistan at the time of evacuation, only a handful were able to secure their pathway to a life with more opportunity in the UK.
“We really felt we were used and thrown,” said Bibek after his evacuation. “We were there to provide security, and we did our job dutifully… They (the British government and GardaWorld) did not empathise with what we were going through. They did not understand that we had been rendered unemployed, or that we faced an uncertain future. They could have at least asked us what we wanted.”
The very concept of employing Nepali guards to create a barrier of security to protect British citizens inside the Embassy implies that these guards’ lives are somehow more dispensable than British citizens. The blatant disregard for their well-being after the evacuation only adds to this notion of the dispensability of the guards in the eyes of GardaWorld and the British government.
“We need support in the form of employment either in Nepal or in the UK because we need to look after our families. At present, many of us are past the age to find fresh employment. We feel really victimised,” added Bibek. Manish, another evacuee, is worried about his children, who would have a good future in the UK.
Instead of feeling “used and thrown”, these evacuees should feel respected, appreciated, and honored for the vital role they played in protecting peoples’ lives in the war in Afghanistan.
After all they have endured, at the very least, the Home Office of the UK needs to provide an explanation as to why those few guards who were able to secure a pathway to stay in the UK were treated as though they had done something illegal and threatened with deportation.
Further, all the security guards who risked their lives to protect the British Embassy should be given the opportunity to attain gainful employment to be able to provide for their families.
Read also: Afghan women expose Taliban atrocities
Jenna Mae Biedscheid is a graduate from Colorado State University who is currently in Nepal as a Fulbright Research Scholar.