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Government Is Facing Urgent Calls To Expand Afghan Relocation Scheme As Thousands Flee From The Taliban

4 min read

Pressure is growing on the Home Office to expand their Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy scheme (ARAP) to get more people out of the country following its fall to the Taliban.

A growing number of charities, civil society organisations and politicians have said the UK needs to take more people fleeing Afghanistan, just hours after foreign secretary Dominic Raab said that the country is a "big hearted nation". 

It is understood the Home Office will release details of a "bespoke" refugee scheme ahead of Wednesday's emergency recall of parliament. 

According to the Home Office, their programme to resettle Afghan nationals who supported British troops as personnel or interpreters during the war, has taken in 2,000 former staff and their families since June 22.

Elizabeth Winter, executive director at British & Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group (BAAG) has urged the international community "to do everything they can" to ensure the safety of Afghan people.  

"This must include expanding the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy scheme (ARAP) and keeping the airport open so anyone that wants to leave can,” she said.  

According to the Home Office, the ARAP policy ensures that any current or former locally employed staff whose lives are considered to be under threat are offered priority relocation to the UK, regardless of their employment status, rank or role, or length of time served. They say they have taken 3,000 people since 2013.

Simon Starling, director of policy, advocacy and research at Bond, the UK network for organisations working in international development, said the government should look again at asylum claims that have previously been turned down.

"The UK government should deploy all the humanitarian and diplomatic levers at their disposal to support all the Afghan people who are in need," he said.

"A critical starting point must be securing the ability for NGOs and their partners to be able to continue to deliver assistance to communities safely, reversing recent aid cuts to the Afghan people and putting an end to any forced removals to Afghanistan and a reviewal of any refused asylum claims.”

The leader of Manchester City Council, Sir Richard Leese, said that they were expecting asylum seekers from Afghanistan to arrive on flights into the city today, and wanted to see the UK government provide support for them. 

"They are on their way. We are expecting planes to be landing at any moment and we are certainly not going to be turning our back on those people," he said. 

"If we are really a caring country we need to make sure we put the proper resources and systems in to support these people very, very quickly, get them out of hotels and into homes."

Labour is also pushing for the government to respond to the humanitarian and refugee crises that are unfolding as a consequence of the Taliban’s advance in Afghanistan, and is calling for thousands of people to be given a safe haven in the UK. 

They want to see a British Afghanistan Resettlement Programme, similar to the Syrian scheme that helped around 20,000 people. They envisage the Afghan version taking more people than the Syrian one.

Labour's shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has said the scheme must include 'locally employed civilians’ who worked to support British efforts in Afghanistan, such as interpreters, regardless of whether they were employed directly or through and agency.

Figures produced by the Defence Select committee suggest around 7,000 people are in this category, according to Labour.

They also want to see a safe home for those who stepped forward – especially women – to take up roles in public life such as politics, law and the media.

Raab told BBC Breakfast the UK had "always been a country that has provided safe haven for those fleeing persecution".

However he added: "The most important thing we can do at source is try and provide the stability so we don't see these large numbers of migrant flows.

"That ought to be the number one priority but nonetheless asylum is really important."

This afternoon Boris Johnson spoke to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, who just days ago was perceived to have endorsed the Taliban's take-over of Afghanistan by saying group had “broken the chains of slavery”.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister stressed his commitment to work with international partners to avoid a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan and the wider region.

“The Prime Minister underlined that any recognition of the new government in Afghanistan to happen on an international, not unilateral basis. He said that any the legitimacy of any future Taliban government will be subject to them upholding internationally agreed standards on human rights and inclusivity.

“The Prime Minister and Prime Minister Khan agreed their governments will keep in close contact in the coming days on the evolving situation.”

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