The government has refused to provide clarity on whether thousands of Afghans currently waiting for decisions on their asylum claims in the UK will be granted protection, saying their claims will remain in the system “as usual”.
The Home Office told The Independent earlier this month that it had frozen the consideration of applications from Afghan asylum seekers who are already in the UK, having deleted key guidance used by decision-makers.
Despite warnings that they are being left in a “nightmarish limbo”, Home Office minister Victoria Atkins told the House of Commons on Monday that Afghan asylum seekers in the UK would “remain within the asylum system as usual”.
She added that they would be processed in line with new country guidance which would be published “shortly”.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds demanded more clarity, saying: “For those already in the asylum system here in the UK, the minister mentioned that new guidance would be published shortly.
“But when exactly will it be published and why has there been such a delay in making it available?”
SNP MP Stuart McDonald later asked: “We need clarity that they will be recognised as refugees. Do we really need country guidance to tell us people from Afghanistan should be recognised as refugees? Shouldn’t that process be expatiated immediately?”
Ms Atkins did not respond to either of the questions, focusing on other elements of the MPs’ wider questioning.
Stephen Farry, an MP of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, later asked: “What reassurance can [the minister] give to the 3,000 Afghans who are currently in our asylum system prior to the fall of Kabul?
“What lessons will she take from what other European countries are doing around a fast-track system? And can she give them the assurance that under no circumstance will anyone be deported back to Afghanistan?”
Ms Atkins responded: “We have said that there will be no more returns to Afghanistan. If someone is in the asylum system then they are supported and their claims will remain within the asylum system as usual.”
Official figures show that by the end of June, there were 3,064 Afghan asylum applications awaiting an initial decision and a further 149 under review. The vast majority had already been waiting for more than six months.
The Home Office has not yet replaced the country policy and information notes used to decide cases, which it said was “no longer relevant to the current situation”.
It is drawing up new guidance that will incorporate revised assessments on security and the risk of persecution.
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