Ministers Accused Of “Failing” Afghan Refugees After Major Delays To Resettlement Scheme
Afghans attempting to reach the UK have faced delays
Exclusive: Just one in four applications for the government’s resettlement scheme have been processed in the last six months despite risk of Taliban reprisals.
Labour have criticised the government of losing track of the scheme after figures showed just over a quarter of applications had been processed by the Ministry of Defence in the last six months.
The Afghan Relocation Assistance Programme opened in April 2021 as a means of helping Afghan citizens who assisted the British military to leave the country with their families following the Taliban takeover, including former translators and local staff.
A swathe of Taliban attacks have already been launched against Afghans who helped western forces during the war, including targeted attacks against family members of those who assisted.
But Labour shadow defence secretary John Healey said that almost 20,000 applications made in the last six months were yet to be processed, with just over 7,000 eligibility decisions made during the period.
"The government is clearly losing track of the number of Afghans who helped British troops and remain in the country,” he told PoliticsHome. “They are now at serious risk of harm from the Taliban and Britain has a moral duty to assist and protect them.
And in a letter to Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, the shadow minister also criticised the government's decision in December 2021 to tighten the eligibility criteria, warning it was putting those who had experienced lengthy delays at risk of a "lottery" process on whether they would still be eligible.
Speaking to PoliticsHome, one Whitehall source said the delays were likely to be exacerbated by the government’s focus on their Ukrainian refugee scheme which has already faced criticism over its slow rollout.
Meanwhile, the MoD also admitted that nearly 700 Afghans who have been confirmed as eligible for the UK scheme are still in Afghanistan because they have not yet been provided with travel documents allowing them to flee the country, leaving them at continued risk from the Taliban.
That figure is four times higher than the department's estimate of 165 people in January and does not include those family members who would also be eligible to come to the UK under the scheme.
Healey, said the figures showed ministers were "failing Afghans who supported our Armed Forces".
"Ministers need to both urgently fix the ARAP scheme and learn the lessons from Afghanistan so that they are not repeated with Ukrainian refugees."
An MOD spokesperson said: "We are aware that there are ARAP applicants currently remaining in Afghanistan with confirmed eligibility for relocation to the UK. We are determined to process these applications as quickly as possible.
"This government has promised to relocate at risk Afghans to the UK and to date 9,200 applicants and their dependents have arrived safetly in the UK under the ARAP scheme."
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