Priti Patel Insists UK Cannot Take 20,000 Afghan Refugees "All In One Go"
Home Secretary Priti Patel has defended the government scheme for resettling Afghan refugees amid criticism that it is not generous enough, claiming the UK "cannot accommodate 20,000 people all in one go".
The Home Office on Tuesday night announced that the UK planned to accept 20,000 Afghan refugees over the next five years, with around 5,000 expected to arrive in the first year.
The scheme, which is similar to the one set up by ex-Prime Minister David Cameron in 2015 for refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, will give priority to women and girls and other groups most at risk of human rights abuses by the Taliban, which seized control of Afghanistan last week.
Questioned by Sky News' Kay Burley why the UK wasn't willing to take more than 5,000 Afghan refugees in the first year of the scheme, Patel suggested it was not practically possible.
“It’s important we have a scheme that can deliver and we have to think very carefully about the practicalities," the Home Secretary said in an interview this morning.
“Importantly, with the new humanitarian route we are announcing, we have to make sure we have all the support structure across the United Kingdom.
"You will have seen from our announcement that we will be working with local councils across the country, and with devolved governments as well, to ensure we can support those people.
She added: "This isn’t just about bringing people over – this is about resettlement. Resettling people so they can begin a new life in the UK.
“We cannot accommodate 20,000 people all in one go."
Patel continued to defend the scheme, claiming that the Canadian government's plan to welcome 20,000 Afghans included people employed in the country to carry out work for Canada, whereas the UK 20,000 was in addition to those evacuated under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP).
The ARAP was created for those who worked for the government during the 20-year operation in Afghanistan, as well as interpreters and their families. It is expected to take around 5,000 people.
Patel said the government was currently bringing around 1,000 people a day to the UK.
"This is an enormous effort," she said. “But we can’t do this on our own. No country or government can do this on their own."
However, the government is expected to come under pressure from across the political divide to expand the Afghan Citizens' Resettlement Scheme when MPs debate the situation in Afghanistan today.
Boris Johnson, who last night said he was "proud" of the UK effort to evacuate people from Afghanistan, will open the five-hour debate this morning after Parliament was recalled from its summer holiday to discuss the growing crisis.
There are expected to be strong statements from MPs across the House amid widespread criticism of the government's decision to withdraw troops from the Afghanistan, as well as its response to the Taliban's subsequent takeover.
Tobias Ellwood, the defence committee chair who is among a chorus of critical Conservative MPs, this week told PoliticsHome the UK had to accept "at least" tens of thousands of fleeing Afghans.
He today described the government scheme as a "woefully inadequate response given the scale of the refugee crisis we are about to face as a direct response to our withdrawl from Afghanistan."
He told The Mirror: "The Government really needs to see the bigger picture here and grasp the scale of the crisis we created."
Lord Dubs, the former Labour MP who was a child refugee, called on the government to take in more Afhans, telling The Guardian: “If the Canadians can take 20,000, why are we only taking 20,000 over five years?”
"I think the criteria for prioritising women and children and vulnerable people is right, but these people are in danger now and are in desperate need for safety."
David Davis, the former Cabinet minister, told HuffPostUK that the UK should accept "north of 50,000" refugees.
Ministers are also under pressure to clarify exactly how much aid the UK will give to Afghanistan amid warnings of a humanitarian crisis under Taliban rule.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday said he expected to increase aid spending on Afghanistan by 10% in response to the crisis.
However, there is confusion over whether this will be an increase on last year's budget or instead on the most recent and significantly smaller figure resulting from government cuts to foreign aid.
The House of Commons Library in July said the cut amounted to a 78% reduction in aid spending on Afghanistan, but since then has stressed that the data was incomplete and that the final figure might be different.
The Foreign Office did not clarify this point when contacted by PoliticsHome.
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe