The Afghan Citizens' Resettlement Scheme is welcome, but we must expand eligibility for family reunion
I very much hope this scheme really will be bespoke, fast and generous. The women of Afghanistan do not have the 6 years to get to safety, they probably don’t have 6 months.
Having spent 48 hours calling for a bespoke resettlement scheme for Afghan civilians, I absolutely welcome the government’s commitment to do just that. But as I said before it was announced and again in the debate in the House, it has to be a scheme that works at pace, time is of the essence.
Having spent 18 months in the Home Office as the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), set up in response to the Syrian crisis, was reaching its target, I know how challenging these schemes can be to reach the people who need it most. I also know that VPRS started slowly, identified people already living in relative safety either in refugee camps or elsewhere in Jordan, and had a whole bureaucracy established around it.
The same will not be true of the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme, which needs to be set up at high speed, in a country that is not safe, and where many of the most vulnerable will be direct targets of the Taliban and have gone into hiding. Of course, we know that Afghans are heading to the borders, with Pakistan and Iran, but neither of those will be easy territories for UNHCR to set up a referral programme.
To make an offer of sanctuary without an entire family is no offer at all
We have a moral duty, identified repeatedly by colleagues over the last few days, to the women of Afghanistan who have played a significant role in helping to build civic society. There are 69 women MPs, 250 judges, countless activists and reporters, civic leaders and Mayors, thousands of teachers, all of whom might well be subject to reprisals from the Taliban for their role in advancing the cause of women. I was pleased to hear the PM reiterate the commitment to prioritising women and girls, but we will have to find them first.
And they will not leave their families behind, even when those families are “grown up”. Would you leave a young woman behind in Afghanistan, likely to be a target for reprisals by a repugnant regime? I know I wouldn’t. So, we need to understand that your child is still your child when they are past 18.
The current refugee family reunion rules are too strict, it will not come as a shock that I have said that. I can remember debating them when I was Immigration Minister and acknowledging to my then opposite number, Afzal Khan, that he had done well if his teenage child was independent at 18, because mine certainly wasn’t at 21. And even if they are independent, why would we ask people to leave family members alone in Afghanistan, at the “mercy” of the Taliban? To make an offer of sanctuary without an entire family is no offer at all.
So, I very much hope this scheme really will be bespoke, will be fast and will be generous. The women of Afghanistan do not have the 6 years VPRS took to get to safety, they probably don’t have 6 months, and the Taliban is a rapid and brutal regime that will seek its reprisals for un-Islamic behaviour as quickly as it advanced on Kabul.
Caroline Nokes is the Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North, chair of the Women and Equalities Committee and former Immigration Minister.
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