Afghans In The UK Fear Resettlement Scheme Delays Leave Their Families In "Great Danger" Of Taliban Reprisals
Ministers have been urged to expand access to the scheme
Campaigners have accused the government of providing "no security whatsoever" with a resettlement scheme for those still in hiding in Afghanistan.
Fears are mounting that thousands of people waiting to leave the Taliban-held country as part of the government's Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) could face danger due to delays in the scheme.
Ministers confirmed earlier this month the resettlement scheme had only opened to those already in the UK, with Spring set as the earliest possible date to begin identification of those still in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries.
Almost six months have passed since the fall of Kabul, with ministers saying the three step programme would first work with those who had already made it to the UK before accepting referals from other UN programmes or through the idenfication of "eligible" people by the Foreign Office.
MPs have been inundated with pleas for help by concerned constituents who have family and friends who are stuck in the country, where many face persecution by the Taliban.
One constituent, who contacted SNP MP Anne McLaughlin, said some of their family members had already been kidnapped, while others are attempting to escape across the border but feared their crossings might be halted because their documents and passports were left behind when they initially fled their homes.
The constituent, who is undergoing treatment for a serious medical condition, said they were now considering ending their treatment to travel to the region in an attempt to help evacuate their family.
Another, identified only as 'M' to protect their family, said they were concerned about a relative who feared being targeted by the Taliban due to their former work with the UN. Colleagues of the family member have already reportedly been killed by the Taliban, while M's family have had their homes visited and searched.According to M, the family were "losing hope" as a result of the delay to the ACRS scheme which they had believed would offer them a route to safety. The family have now gone into hiding, and their children have been forced to leave school due to fears of Taliban reprisals.
Andy Hewett, head of advocacy at the Refugee Council, said the scheme was providing "no security whatsoever" for those left behind, and said without urgent action that families would be "condemned to a future apart".
"It is a grave concern that so many Afghans, both evacuees who came a few months ago and those still yet to come to the UK, will not be granted refugee status and crucially, the right to reunite with their loved ones," he said.
"We know only too well that refugee families being torn apart is one of the most painful impacts of war and conflict. It is heart-breaking to think that so many refugee families torn apart when Kabul fell and during the mayhem of fleeing the Taliban are unable to reunite in safety and are condemned to a future apart.
"The ACRS provides no security whatsoever for those still in Afghanistan – the men, women and children currently in hiding, forced underground by threats of violence by the Taliban. We know from our work with Afghans in the UK that many are desperately worried about family members who remain in Afghanistan and in great danger."
Minnie Rahman, campaigns director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said the government should urgently expand their eligibility and access to resettlement routes.
"At-risk Afghans with families in the UK deserve safe routes here and the warm welcome this government promised them, but right now many are losing hope," she told PoliticsHome.
"We have tried to help several Afghans in Britain bring family members to the UK – to little avail so far.
"Existing family reunion routes are restrictive for most refugees at the best of times, but in the case of Afghans the process has been completely stalled for months, leaving people in unimaginable danger and with no safe routes available."
She added: "What's more, under government's new Borders Bill, Afghans who try to re-join family by making their own way here will face criminalisation and removal. Government must not let this happen – we need wider, more accessible family reunion routes now, and people must have their asylum cases assessed fairly regardless of how they got here."
Speaking earlier this month, Home Office minister Victoria Atkins said the scheme would help thousands of people come to the UK, and would run alongside other pre-existing settlement schemes.
She told MPs the UK had "always been generous to those fleeing persecution", adding the approach was "one of the world's most generous humanitarian offers to vulnerable Afghans."But Labour councillor Peymana Assad, who was airlifted from Afghanistan with a family member after she visited the country to see relatives, told PoliticsHome the new scheme leaves "many questions unanswered".
"The finer details are not clear and whilst it's great the Conservative government has committed to supporting families who have Afghan nationals and British nationals in one family unit, exactly what that means in unclear," she said.
"The scheme overall is disappointing because it does not meet the immediate needs of Afghans who are at risk inside Afghanistan.
"The Government are counting those already evacuated in the numbers they committed to bringing and have announced a referral mechanism for our at-risk Afghan allies, which is dependent on who you know, not how at risk you are."
She added: "It seems the government is doing everything they can to make sure they don't take anymore Afghan refugees in and unless the government is willing to explain the finer details properly, this is how it looks from the outset."
A government spokesperson said: "The UK is taking a leading role in the international response to supporting at-risk Afghan citizens and we continue to do all we can to help them to safety.
"The ACRS provides up to 20,000 women, children and others at risk with a safe and legal route to resettle in the UK. This includes individuals who supported the UK and international community effort in Afghanistan, including those British Council contractors who are most at risk."
They added: "The Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy scheme remains open, and has already helped 7,000 Afghans to safety in the UK. We continue to process applications as quickly as possible and support all those identified to be eligible as a result of their work for the UK Government."
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