Thousands Of Afghans In UK Left In Limbo On £5.69 A Day While They Wait For Settled Status
Refugee charities have raised the alarm about the “damaging and dehumanising” treatment of Afghan asylum seekers who arrived in the UK prior to the Taliban’s takeover.
On Tuesday night home secretary Priti Patel announced a new Afghan Citizens' Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), which will be offered to people forced to flee their homes or facing threats of persecution from the Taliban.
The scheme will see 5,000 Afghans taken to Britain in the first year, with 5,000 joining in subsequent years
While parliamentarians and campaigners have welcomed the news, charities have raised concerns about Afghans who arrived in Britain before the scheme was established and are therefore not eligible to apply for it.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed this week that no refugees already in Britain will be deported back to Afghanistan.
However, 3,000 Afghans awaiting a decision on their asylum claims have not been guaranteed settled status either, leaving them stuck in a “nightmarish limbo”.
Paul Hook, director of the charity Asylum Matters, described the situation as desperate and deeply concerning.
He told PoliticsHome: "Outside of the newly-announced resettlement scheme, there are two urgent actions ministers must take in order to safeguard Afghans in desperate need. Firstly, the Home Office must expedite decisions on outstanding claims for refugee protection from those Afghans already in the UK; and review decisions for people here whose claims have been previously refused. Given the unfolding horrors in Afghanistan, it's very difficult to see any basis for claims being rejected.
"Secondly, ministers must now scrap their anti-refugee bill, due to return to parliament next month and which will undermine the right of Afghans and others fleeing crises around the world to claim asylum in the UK".
Afghans, like all other refugees in the UK who arrived through unauthorised routes, have limited rights and freedoms.
Under the UK’s controversial no recourse to public funding policy, those awaiting a decision on their asylum claim cannot work or access benefits.
They also cannot choose where to reside and are required to live off just £5.69 per day.
The Home Office currently contracts three private companies – Serco, Mears and Clearsprings Ready Homes – to provide short-term accommodation to asylum seekers.
The companies manage small ‘dispersal’ sites across the UK, with the largest and only current mass accommodation centre being Napier Barracks in Kent, which houses up to 431 people.
Charities have raised alarms about the "dangerous" conditions of many accommodation sites, including Napier Barracks, which this month has seen cases of covid rip through the centre.
Around 76% of asylum seekers are required to wait more than six months for a decision on their case, while many others wait years before hearing any news.
However, with the government promising not to deport refugees back to Afghanistan, charities are confused as to why decisions on Afghan asylum applications are not being expedited.
Shabnam Nasimi, director of Conservative Friends of Afghanistan, today called on home secretary Priti Patel to grant refugee status to the 3,000 Afghans stuck in limbo "as soon as possible."
She said: "There are currently approximately 3,000 open Afghan asylum cases in the UK. Considering the volatile situation in Afghanistan, Taliban brutality and the threat to their lives being at its greatest, I’d like to call on Priti Patel to grant them refugee status as soon as possible.
"We appreciate your work in supporting women and girls, and persecuted minorities to resettle in the UK - and urge you to also consider the safety of those asylum seekers who are now in the UK and would be killed by the Taliban upon their return."
Tim Naor Hilton, CEO of the charity Refugee Action, told PoliticsHome: “As this government grandstands on its generosity to Afghans fleeing the current crisis, thousands of Afghans are stuck in the UK’s damaging and dehumanising asylum system right now.
“It’s a system that all too often fails those desperately seeking safety. People seeking asylum are banned from working and must survive on £5.69 per day, often having to choose between food and medication. Asylum accommodation is in crisis, with people stuck in dangerous dilapidated housing or in de facto detention in disused army barracks. It’s a nightmarish limbo…”
The Home Office told PoliticsHome it is closely monitoring the situation in Afghanistan and due to the escalations this weekend are urgently updating information and policies to inform asylum claims.
The Home Office also said it unable to comment further on operational decisions, but its position is still that "people should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach and not risk their lives making dangerous crossings across the Channel".
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