The resettlement scheme is letting down Afghan relatives of British nationals still stranded and at risk
Last month, after a five-month wait, the government announced that the Afghanistan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) was finally up and running.
This should have brought huge relief to Afghans trying to reach sanctuary in the UK. But that has not been the reality.
The minister for Afghan resettlement, Victoria Atkins, told MPs that the first to be resettled under the new ACRS would be those already evacuated and in the UK. The logic of prioritising people who are already comparatively safe is not clear. She also said nothing about how the Afghan family members of British nationals who are not in the UK could access support via the ACRS.
Why is it that those lucky enough to have been evacuated will be granted leave to remain in the UK, while those who could not get on an evacuation flight will receive no help at all?
When I’ve raised individual cases, I've been told that Afghan family members stranded in countries like Turkey, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, will need to apply under the existing immigration rules - and be ready to pay relevant fees.
The government’s failure to support those who have a legitimate reason to make the UK their home is a stain on this country’s reputation
One of these cases is a shopkeeper in Brighton and Hove. Abdul (pseudonym) was given asylum in the UK many years ago, then applied for and was given UK citizenship. When the political situation allowed, he regularly travelled back to Afghanistan to visit his family there.
Abdul is a valued member of the local community – he delivered shopping to vulnerable people during Covid to help keep them safe. He works hard, pays his taxes and could support his family here. He desperately wants to bring his wife and young teenage daughters to safety in the UK.
They managed to flee across the border as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan and are currently in Turkey. So, there is no reason why the UK government cannot "shift heaven and earth" to help them reach the UK.
In November, I was told: "Family members, like Abdul’s wife and daughters, who were not called forward and are not eligible for evacuation under ARAP or ACRS will need to apply to come to the UK under the existing economic or family migration and reunion rules."
At present, fees for this type of application are £3,395 per applicant. They also need to pass an English language test and submit ID documents, and their sponsor must earn in excess of £18,600.
Even if Abdul could pay the application fee, his family all passed the English language test, and he met the income threshold, his wife and daughters fled Afghanistan at a time of crisis so they have few documents. They cannot simply make an online application as the government demands because they do not have the paperwork they need.
I have explained this to ministers at the Home Office and asked them to find a solution for this family. I am still waiting for an answer to queries I made on November 26, again on December 10 and, most recently, on January 18.
In the meantime, Abdul’s wife and daughters are stranded in Turkey, where they have been told they are not eligible to access the ACRS scheme. They can’t apply for family member visas online because of the barriers the Home Office has in place, nor can they apply in person at the British embassy in Turkey as they are not British nationals so aren’t entitled to consular support.
On January 6, the minister described the government's Afghan resettlement work as its "new plan for immigration in action". A plan which offers zero support or flexibility for Afghan family members of British nationals who are stranded in a third country, and possibly at risk there.
For them, Operation Warm Welcome is more like Operation Unwelcome.
The government’s failure to support those who have a legitimate reason to make the UK their home, like Abdul’s family, is a stain on this country’s reputation and a betrayal of its commitment to the people of Afghanistan.
Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion.
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