Home Office acting too slowly to bring Afghans to UK, argue MPs and Lords

Government ‘slow’ to deliver promises to Afghan refugees and failing to reunite families separated during evacuation, MPs and peers say

Holly Bancroft
Social Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 01 May 2024 21:22 BST
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MPs and Lords have called on the Home Office to act faster to help Afghan families, saying the government has failed to deliver on its promise to bring women right’s activists and others who supported the British mission to the UK.

In a letter shared with The Independent, a coalition of 19 MPs from all major political parties and nine peers have written to legal migration minister Tom Pursglove about the government’s Afghan resettlement schemes.

Following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the UK initially pledged to accept 20,000 people over five years under the Home Office’s scheme for vulnerable Afghans and those who promoted British values such as democracy, women’s rights, freedom of speech and the rule of law. The scheme is known as the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) and is separate from the Ministry of Defence (MoD)’s scheme, which is exclusively for those who worked for British forces.

Parliamentarians, led by Lib Dem MP Wendy Chamberlain, have called on home office minister Mr Pursglove to act with “more haste on delivering these promises”, saying: “Those who remain [in Afghanistan] face an escalating humanitarian situation and increasing limitations on their basic human rights, especially women and girls.”

Over a quarter of the 20,000 places were allocated retrospectively to people who came to the UK during the airlifts from Kabul airport in August 2021, the letter said. “Since then the delivery of the remaining pledges has been slow,” it continued.

Afghan refugees wait to be processed after arriving on an evacuation flight from Afghanistan, at Heathrow Airport, London on August 26, 2021
Afghan refugees wait to be processed after arriving on an evacuation flight from Afghanistan, at Heathrow Airport, London on August 26, 2021 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

In the whole of 2022 and 2023 combined, just 1,611 Afghans were brought to the UK through the Home Office and Foreign Office schemes, the letter said.

The third pathway of the ACRS, which is for Afghans promised scholarship places in the UK and security contractors for embassies, brought just 688 of these Afghans to the UK, despite 1,500 places being available. The government is now working on who will be allowed to apply for help in the second phase of this pathway.

However this has been held up, with parliamentarians writing: “Stage two of ACRS 3 - expected to support Afghan women and girls or members of oppressed minority groups and initially anticipated in the second year - is yet to be initiated.”

MPs and Lords also criticised the government for leaving Afghans in the UK to face “ongoing uncertainty” and “considerable stress” while they wait to hear whether they can be reunited with some family members.

Those who were separated from family during Operation Pitting, the UK’s evacuation effort in August 2021, had been told that they would be able to apply to bring their family members to the UK. However despite the promise, MPs said that these Afghans “already separated for over two and a half years, are still waiting to know how and when they can finally be reunited”.

The uncertainty is driving Afghans to desperation, with some attempting to cross the Channel via small boat in an attempt to reach their family in the UK. One 24-year-old Ahmad Nadeem Ebadi spoke to The Independent in Dunkirk, northern France last week, where he was trying to get on a small boat.

His father, who has dual British citizenship, was evacuated by the UK government along with other members of his family in August 2021. Nadeem said: “I didn’t get a chance to go on the plane. I have tried so many ways to come legally but there is no way.”

The letter, which is signed by Tory MPs Caroline Nokes and Sir Julian Lewis and Green MP Caroline Lucas among others, continued: “For Afghans waiting in the region, we are concerned that temporary visas have run out and that many are at imminent risk of being returned to Afghanistan. For those still in Afghanistan, the risks only continue.”

Neighbouring Pakistan has been deporting Afghan refugees, with some 600,000 people returning since last October.

There are also a few hundred former Afghan special forces soldiers who worked closely with British troops living in Pakistan. Their resettlement applications are currently subject to a review by the MoD, but they do not have any protection from deportation while this review is ongoing.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government continues to work with partners in the region to evacuate eligible people and are committed to bringing more Afghans to the UK in the long term.

“We have committed to establishing a route for those evacuated from Afghanistan under Pathway 1 of the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme without their immediate family members to reunite in the UK. We remain on track to open the route for referrals in the first half of this year.”

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