The long-awaited Afghan resettlement scheme for people fleeing the Taliban has finally been given a launch date – but campaigner say they are still waiting on “crucial details”.
The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme – first promised shortly after Kabul fell to the insurgents in August – will help 20,000 at-risk Afghans build new lives in the UK, prioritising women, children and people from minority groups. It will launch in January, the government announced on Thursday.
Experts previously criticised ministers over delays in opening the scheme, saying it left vulnerable people to choose between staying in Afghanistan under threat of violence or making the perilous trip to claim asylum on British shores.
People already evacuated to the UK including journalists and activists will benefit from the scheme first, gaining the right to live and work here through indefinite leave to remain.
Responding to the news, Refugee Action’s Louise Calvey said: “It’s vital for the thousands of Afghans stuck in hotels in the UK and the thousands more in fear of their lives in and around Afghanistan that the resettlement programme starts immediately and is properly funded.
“Yet ministers remain concerningly tight-lipped on crucial details, such as how many of the 20,000 people they’ve pledged to help are already in the UK, and how many additional refugees stuck overseas will be welcomed,” she added.
“The government must also provide urgent clarity on how it intends to back local councils and international organisations to make sure people fleeing the Taliban quickly receive the life-saving protection and support they desperately need.”
Around 15,000 people were evacuated from Kabul to the UK in August, followed by another 1,500 in the months since.
Westminster has given councils £20,520 in funding per person over three years to support people arriving in the UK, according to the government, with more than 300 local authorities offering to take in Afghan families so far.
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, welcomed the news but warned the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill threatened to put people fleeing danger at even greater risk.
“Too many Afghans who have been left waiting for this scheme to start have been forced to either stay in a country where they fear for their lives every day or take the gut-wrenching decision to leave and embark on a dangerous journey in an attempt to reach safety,” she said. “This scheme will finally help provide a safe route and support these people both desperately need and deserve. It is important that everyone on the scheme is given the right to be reunited with immediate family members.
“But we remain concerned that under the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill, anyone reaching the UK from Afghanistan who does not arrive under a resettlement scheme could be prosecuted and sent to prison for having entered the country unlawfully.
“This bill will slam the door in the face of many Afghans fleeing persecution and oppression. The government must rethink its proposals and ensure all Afghans can be given protection irrespective of how they arrived in the UK.”
Experts have also warned Afghans who have been living in refugee camps since the Taliban seized power could face a wait of several months before being brought to the UK because there is no scheme in place to help people sheltering in neighbouring countries such as Iran and Pakistan.
Minister for Afghan resettlement, Victoria Atkins, said: “We are committed to supporting everyone we have evacuated from Afghanistan to make a success of their new life in the UK. I’m very grateful to everyone who has stepped forward to help.
“The Afghan citizens resettlement scheme provides a safe and legal way for the most vulnerable and at-risk people from Afghanistan to come to the United Kingdom and rebuild their lives, as part of the New Plan for Immigration.”
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