'The most rewarding work I’ve ever done': Kabul evacuation supported by rapid response team

Manager within Surge and Rapid Response Team "shed tears of joy" on hearing that family she helped had returned to the UK
A charter flight carrying passengers evacuated from Kabul airport. Photo: Avpics/Alamy Stock Photo

By CSW staff

01 Dec 2021

A member of the cross-departmental Surge and Rapid Response Team has shared her experience of supporting August’s evacuation of British nationals from Kabul, calling it "the most rewarding work I’ve ever done".

Michelle, whose second name was not published, shared her experience supporting the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office through the Afghanistan crisis on HMRC Digital’s blog. SRRT is hosted by HM Revenue and Customs with its largely-apprentice staff based in 10 of the department’s offices.

“Our daily brief was dynamic as the situation in Kabul changed,” she said. “People were desperate, yet despite this, they managed to be so courteous and grateful for any help we could offer.”

The work involved speaking with British nationals struggling to leave the country, which Michelle said was upsetting and challenging at times.

"The most rewarding situation for me was to hear that a family I’d been speaking with had managed to make it back to the UK," she said.

"I’d lost contact with them when the bomb went off. I knew they were on the way to the airport and had made it as far as the entrance gates. This was the last time I spoke with them. Then silence. That evening I could not settle. I watched the news which made me feel worse and so helpless."

However, she “shed tears of joy” when she heard the family had successfully flown back to the UK.

Civil servants including the ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow remained in Afghanistan until late in the often-chaotic evacuation to support British nationals wanting to leave the country and to process visa claims from Afghan interpreters.

Despite the efforts, some local security guards employed by the embassy through contractors were barred from reaching the airport.

The evacuation followed the collapse of the country’s government and its takeover by the Taliban.

According to a current recruitment notice for 40 apprentice administrative officers, SSRT members can be deployed internationally in some circumstances, although the blog post suggests Michelle supported the evacuation from the UK.

SSRT was set up in 2015 to improve civil service resilience to cope with expected or unexpected peaks in demand at the Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs, following the inability of the Passport Office to deal with a surge in demand in 2014.

Now available to any central government department or agency, it has been used to support the return of travellers after the collapse of airline Monarch, helping survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire and supporting DWP in introducing universal credit.

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