Afghans killed as Whitehall worked from home: Whistleblower lays bare failures ...

Afghans killed as Whitehall worked from home: Whistleblower lays bare failures ...
Afghans killed as Whitehall worked from home: Whistleblower lays bare failures ...

A whistleblower today exposes how Afghan rescue flights were hampered by a 'work from home' culture in Whitehall.

The junior civil servant claims that – despite lives being at stake – he was at times the only person dealing with thousands of emails from those desperate to flee the Taliban.

Raphael Marshall reveals that soldiers had to be drafted in for desk work in the Foreign Office when officials stayed at home and refused to do overtime. 

He accuses former foreign secretary Dominic Raab of undermining the rescue efforts by delaying decisions.

And he also claims that thousands of pleading emails were opened, but not dealt with, just so that Boris Johnson could tell MPs there were no unread messages.

The allegations raise 'questions about the leadership of the Foreign Office', says Tom Tugendhat, Tory chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee. 

The panel today publishes a 39-page dossier written by Mr Marshall, who worked as a civil servant handling requests from Afghans seeking mercy flights out of Kabul in August.

Mr Marshall estimates that less than 5 per cent of between 75,000 and 150,000 people who applied to the 'special cases' team received assistance.

Raphael Marshall (pictured), a junior civil servant, has claimed he was at times the only person dealing with thousands of emails from those desperate to flee the Taliban

Raphael Marshall (pictured), a junior civil servant, has claimed he was at times the only person dealing with thousands of emails from those desperate to flee the Taliban

Evacuees crowd the interior of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, carrying some 640 Afghans to Qatar from Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 15

Evacuees crowd the interior of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, carrying some 640 Afghans to Qatar from Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 15

'It is clear that some of those left behind have since been murdered by the Taliban,' he warned. In a series of revelations he tells how:

On one afternoon half way through the two-week evacuation effort he was the only person processing the emails; There were 5,000 unread messages in the inbox at any given moment, with desperate subject lines such as 'please save my children'; A staffing crisis in the Foreign Office was compounded by civil servants working from home, including team leaders; Officials were able to refuse to work nights and overtime as part of a 'deliberate drive' to prioritise 'work-life balance'. Staff who worked more than their designated eight hours were 'encouraged to leave'; Soldiers drafted into the Foreign Office had to share one computer between eight for almost a day; The criteria for evacuation was so vague that cooks and cleaners who had worked for the BBC were rescued but not some interpreters who had served alongside UK soldiers; Mr Raab created unnecessary delays by refusing to make a decision on a list of exceptional cases until it was reformatted.

After the Taliban seized control of Kabul in August, thousands of desperate people appealed to the British to be rescued. 

In an operation lasting a fortnight, more than 15,000 British and Afghan citizens were airlifted by the UK. But many were left behind when the final mercy flight left on August 28.

The foreign affairs committee is holding an inquiry into the handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Mr Marshall has provided the MPs with a written statement on the department's response.

Chaotic crowds on an approach to Kabul Airport as thousands desperately tried to flee the country

Chaotic crowds on an approach to Kabul Airport as thousands desperately tried to flee the country

A whistleblower has said at times he was the only person fielding thousands of emails from those trying to flee Afghanistan

A whistleblower has said at times he was the only person fielding thousands of emails from those trying to flee Afghanistan

The 'special cases' team he was in looked at the claims of those at risk because of their links with the UK, including Afghan soldiers, politicians, journalists, civil servants, activists, aid workers and judges.

This was separate from the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy scheme for those who worked directly for the UK Government, such as military translators. Amid staffing shortages, Mr Marshall said the officials struggled to process the volume of emails and failed to prioritise cases.

The 25-year-old, who joined the Foreign Office straight from Oxford University, said no member of the team working on these cases had detailed knowledge of Afghanistan.

Junior officials were 'scared by being asked to make hundreds of life and death decisions about which they knew nothing', according to his evidence. 

On the afternoon of Saturday, August 21, Mr Marshall claims he 'was the only person monitoring and processing emails in the Afghan special cases inbox'.

'In my opinion, staffing shortages were exacerbated by some staff working from home, which hampered communication,' he wrote in his statement to MPs.

Mr Tugendhat said: 'These allegations are serious and go to the heart of the failures of leadership around the Afghan disaster. 

The evacuation has been described as a success by some, but these allegations point to a very different story – one of lack of interest, and bureaucracy over humanity.'

A Government spokesman said: 'UK Government staff worked tirelessly to evacuate more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan within a fortnight. 

This was the biggest mission of its kind in generations and the second largest evacuation carried out by any country. We are still working to help others leave.

'More than 1,000 FCDO staff worked to help British nationals and eligible Afghans leave during Operation Pitting. 

The scale of the evacuation and the challenging circumstances meant decisions on prioritisation had to be made quickly to ensure we could help as many people as possible.' 

Civil servants' obsession with work-life balance left Afghans at Taliban's mercy

By John Stevens, Deputy Political Editor

Across 39 devastating pages of evidence, Raphael Marshall today lays bare the extraordinary shambles at the heart of the Foreign Office after Kabul fell to the Taliban.

With the militants in control of the country, thousands of desperate Afghan workers and their families appealed to Britain to be airlifted to safety.

Yet the junior diplomat was, at times, the only person left dealing with hundreds upon hundreds of emails, almost all of them pleading for help.

In a detailed written statement to the Commons foreign affairs committee, published today, Mr Marshall – described by the committee as a 'whistleblower' – outlines how chronic staffing shortages at the department were compounded by colleagues working from home, refusing to work weekends and sticking to the culture of eight-hour shifts 'despite the urgency' of the situation.

The junior diplomat, who has now left the Foreign Office, also suggests the evacuation effort was hampered by delays in decision making by the then foreign secretary, Dominic Raab.

Britain's former foreign secretary Dominic Raab answers questions on Government policy on Afghanistan during a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee in September

Britain's former foreign secretary Dominic Raab answers questions on Government policy on Afghanistan during a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee in September

Taliban fighters pose for a photograph in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 19 earlier this year

Taliban fighters pose for a photograph in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 19 earlier this year

Here, John Stevens details Mr Marshall's damning claims about the performance of his former department during one of the worst crises in its recent history.

SO MANY LEFT BEHIND TO BE MURDERED BY THE TALIBAN

Mr Marshall, a 25-year-old graduate working at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in Whitehall, was assigned to the Special Cases team. 

This was separate from the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy scheme that handled the cases of Afghans who worked directly for the UK Government, such as translators. 

Instead, the Special Cases dealt with the claims of those at risk because of their links with the UK – including Afghan soldiers, politicians, journalists, civil servants, activists, aid workers and judges, as well as guards and others who worked through sub-contractors.

In his statement, he estimates that 'between 75,000 and 150,000 people (including dependants) applied for evacuation' via the Special Cases team but concludes, damningly, that fewer than five per cent 'have received any assistance'. 

He writes: 'It is clear that some of those left behind have since been murdered by the Taliban.'

5,000 UNREAD MESSAGES

The whistleblower says that many of the emails to the Special Cases inbox were unread, with around 5,000 unread at any one time at the peak of the crisis. 

He says many of those pleading for help detailed 'grave human rights abuses' by the Taliban, including 'murders, rapes and burning of homes'. 

He says that while the emails received an automated response that they had been 'logged', this was 'usually false'.

A SINGLE CIVIL SERVANT TO READ THOUSANDS OF EMAILS

On the afternoon of Saturday August 21 –halfway through the two-week effort to rescue Afghans from Kabul – Mr Marshall reveals he 'was the only person monitoring and processing emails in the Afghan Special Cases inbox'. 

He adds: 'No emails from after early Friday afternoon had been read at that point. The number of unread emails was already in the high thousands, I believe above 5,000, and increasing constantly. 

Around four other people had been rostered to work on the Special Cases team but had not come on shift... I had not originally been rostered but had decided that I was morally obliged to put myself down because I saw the team was not fully staffed. 

If I had not, it is possible there would have been no one to process the emails at all.'

He continues: 'These emails were desperate and urgent. I was struck by many titles including phrases such as 'please save my children'.'

At the point where he was the

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