The UK Home Office’s emergency Afghanistan helpline directed calls to a washing machine company in what was called an “appalling” blunder.
An Afghan man living in Dundee trying to help his family flee the Taliban called the phone number announced on social media but was left distressed when it redirected him incorrectly.
He was put through to a store in Coventry repeatedly and heard an answer message for Wilko.
STV News understands the Home Office fault was due to a technical glitch.
The helpline was set up for individuals or their family members to register foreign nationals who believe they are eligible to be brought back to the UK from Afghanistan.
The man contacted his MP Chris Law to raise the issue.
“It’s pretty appalling given the circumstances,” Law told STV News, “These are people already concerned about their loved ones.”
The MP for Dundee West said he was shocked that the Home Office had not issued an apology but that hardware store Wilko had.
He said: “Mistakes can be made, but an apology is the right thing to do. You can imagine the concern of [this constituent] who used the Home Office number on behalf of family in Afghanistan.”
The UK Border Force, Armed Forces, the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and Home Office have evacuated over 13,000 people in the 14 days during Operation Pitting – the UK’s Afghanistan evacuation mission.
Operation Pitting has entered its final stages with defence secretary Ben Wallace saying “the sad fact is not every single one will get out”.
A spokesperson for Wilko said: “We’re very sorry the person was unable to get through to the correct helpline.
“The number in the tweet isn’t the one for our Coventry store and so there must have been a crossed wire somewhere.
“The issue appears to have been sorted out now so we hope anyone who’s trying to get through doesn’t have the same problem. “
A government spokesperson said: “The new Afghanistan Helpline is up and running and dedicated Home Office civil servants have taken the details of more than 20,000 people.
“We would urge people to not call the line to chase for updates as this is chasing further delays.”