Scheme to bring left-behind Afghan refugees to UK will finally launch next month



Desperate Afghan refugees who were left behind in August’s evacuation will finally start being resettled in the UK next month.

The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme will open in January 2022, five months after British troops left Kabul, the Home Office announced today.

Afghans who “assisted UK efforts” or stood up for democracy, women’s rights, free speech and the rule of law will be prioritised, as will women, girls and minority groups.

British Council Workers, GardaWorld employees and Chevening scholars who were unable to escape in August will also be considered under the scheme.

Minister Victoria Atkins will give details to Parliament in January, with 20,000 people set to be resettled over the life of the scheme.

Brave UK troops helped 15,000 British citizens and Afghans escape up to August but thousands were left behind, at risk of murder by the Taliban.

Scroll down for an opinion piece on the crisis by Labour’s shadow aid minister

Taliban stand guard beside the body of a suicide bomber who was shot and killed as he tried to blew himself up inside a crowded passport office
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STRINGER/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Ministers had pledged ACRS would help around 5,000 Afghans in its first year – but were still designing it months after the evacuation ended.

Official figures last month showed only 1,171 desperate refugees from around the world were placed in the UK through ‘resettlement’ schemes since Covid hit.

By comparison 5,371 were resettled in 2017, 5,095 in 2018 and 4,897 in 2019.

The UN Refugee Agency’s UK arm today warned 97% of Afghanistan’s entire population is at risk of entering poverty in 2022, with 55% – 22.8million people – facing extreme levels of hunger.

Flour and fuel costs have risen 30% since the end of June, painting a “bleak picture” when temperatures drop to -12C over the Afghan winter, the refugee agency said.

The Disasters Emergency Committee launched an Afghanistan Crisis Appeal last week, urging Brits to donate to the relief effort via dec.org.uk.

Writing for the Mirror, Shadow International Development Minister Preet Kaur Gill warned: “Months after the debacle at Kabul airport, the UK and our international allies are missing in action.”

Preet Kaur Gill warned: “Months after the debacle at Kabul airport, the UK and our international allies are missing in action”
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Birmingham Live)

She demanded the UK government “expand safe routes” for refugees and “ensure funding is getting into Afghanistan”.

She added: “Humanitarian aid, while essential, is a sticking plaster and no substitute for basic public services.”

Calling for the UK to “negotiate new terms of engagement with the Taliban”, she added: “Of course, no responsible government would normalise relations with or allow taxpayer money to fund a Taliban crackdown on women’s rights, girls’ education or terrorism.

“But complete failure to engage is costing lives and not sustainable.”

Another explosion hit today near the Kabul passport office, where large crowds have gathered after travel documents started being issued after a weeks-long suspension.

Minister for Afghan Resettlement Victoria Atkins said: “We are committed to supporting everyone we have evacuated from Afghanistan to make a success of their new life in the UK.

“I’m very grateful to everyone who has stepped forward to help.

“The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme provides a safe and legal way for the most vulnerable and at-risk people from Afghanistan to come to the UK and rebuild their lives.”

‘UK are missing in action – we must negotiate new terms with Taliban’

By Preet Gill MP, Labour Shadow Cabinet Minister for International Development

With Afghanistan facing unprecedented tragedy this winter, the international community must work fast to get short-term relief to Afghans and negotiate a plan to engage the new government. Yet months after the debacle at Kabul airport, the UK and our international allies are missing in action.

The chiefs of the Red Cross and UN’s humanitarian operations warned last week that the country is now “in free fall”. The International Monetary Fund projected the economy could shrink by 30% within a year. Basic public services are breaking down, with nurses, doctors and teachers now unpaid for months and communities left without fuel or electricity.

With winter temperatures as low as -15C soon to set in, the World Food Programme reports that a staggering 98% of people no longer have enough to eat. Millions face the prospect of famine and starvation. Next year, 23 million Afghans will be reliant on food assistance that is not yet available. I spoke this week to Afghan MP Nilofar Jalali Koofi, who warned me that the situation was dire enough that people would soon turn on each other. By any measure, be very clear: this is no ‘normal’ humanitarian crisis. The UN’s appeal for Afghanistan – seeking $4.5bn in 2022 – is the largest ever.

After two decades of military involvement and this year’s sudden withdrawal of life-saving funding from Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy, Britain and the wider international community bear a large share of responsibility for what happens next. So what can we do?

Labour are calling on the UK government to treat Afghanistan as a foreign policy priority in 2022 by taking the lead in bringing international partners together to develop a clear three-point plan to avert immediate disaster.

First, Britain and partners must expand safe routes for those in danger still fleeing the country and persuade other governments to host their fair share of refugees, as an example of willing, the British government must urgently open the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme that it first promised back in August.

Second, we must ensure funding is getting into Afghanistan so that the finance is available to allow basic structures and public services to function.

Immediate humanitarian and development relief is needed, as of late October, our government has disbursed less than 30% of what it promised this financial year, with three quarters of the year already gone. This must be ramped up. We must empower trusted partners on the ground including INGOs and the UN to deliver aid quickly to the people who need it most.

However, Humanitarian aid, while essential, is a sticking plaster and no substitute for basic public services. Britain must lead international partners to coordinate a global plan to get cash to local authorities to keep doctors and teachers working, and their clinics and schools open.

That should include developing a mechanism to gradually unfreeze and distribute, via the UN, assets held at the regional and state level. After two decades attempting to build peace through security forces and deals between national elites, we must learn lessons and invest directly in Afghans and their communities.

Third, the government must lead efforts to negotiate new terms of engagement with the Taliban. Nearly six months after the fall of Kabul the international community has failed to grasp the reality and failed to put in place a plan as to how we engage with Afghanistan.

Of course, no responsible government would normalise relations with or allow taxpayer money to fund a Taliban crackdown on women’s rights, girls’ education or terrorism but complete failure to engage is costing lives and not sustainable.

That is why weeks of intensive international talks in Doha, at the UN Security Council and between the ‘Troika Plus’ are so important and offer a route – with strict parameters for engagement – towards dialogue and the possible emergence of an Afghan government that has greater respect for human rights. Saving millions of lives and preventing famine in Afghanistan – yet alone further political collapse and the refugee crisis that would spark – depend on these negotiations succeeding.

Yet at just the moment when Britain is most needed at the international table to help do the hard yards of pragmatic, principled diplomacy, our government is nowhere to be seen.

Afghanistan negotiations are fronted not by our Prime Minister or Foreign Secretary, but by junior ministers and senior civil servants from the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office already in disarray after recent whistle-blower revelations.

Afghanistan must be a foreign policy priority for Britain, we can’t ignore the growing crisis and must not shirk our responsibilities.

We can make a difference, but our government must follow the lead of the British people, who have donated in their millions this Christmas, to help vulnerable people in Afghanistan.

It’s time the British government step-up, show global leadership, bring allies together and implement the plan that can avert disaster in Afghanistan.

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www.mirror.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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