The Mail on Sunday - 2021-10-10


UK charges for 5 million desperate calls

Qatar: The Toxic World Cup

By Nick Constable

DESPERATE Afghans living in fear of Taliban reprisals made more than 5.3 million calls to a Home Office helpline – and were charged for doing so. Official figures show an average of 11,700 phone calls were made every hour by those in Afghanistan and their friends and relatives in Britain during the chaotic withdrawal of US and UK troops. In a reply to a question from Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy, Victoria Atkins, Minister for Afghan Resettlement, said that 5,357,322 calls were made to the helpline between August 20 and September 7. ‘The primary focus was to ensure it was easily accessible for those calling from the UK and abroad – a freephone option would not have provided that accessibility,’ she added. The helpline also suffered technical problems, with some callers diverted to a Coventry washing machine repair centre. Interpreter Bakhtiar Shoresh, 46, who escaped to the UK, said: ‘I have relatives left behind who worked for the British Government. One of them has to move every two days because he is being hunted by the Taliban. It is wrong for them to have to pay for these calls.’ The Home Office said it made no money from the helpline.


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