Afghanistan: Just 5,000 offered UK refuge over next year as it’s ‘very rare’ to flee home country, No 10 says

‘It’s very rare that people want to leave where they live and start life in another country,’ Boris Johnson’s spokesman insists

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 18 August 2021 14:13
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Labour MP criticises resettlement of only 5,000 Afghan refugees

Only 5,000 fleeing Afghans will be offered sanctuary in the UK over the next year because it is “very rare” for people to abandon their country, Downing Street says.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman defended the low figure – when thousands of Afghans are trying to escape the Taliban every day – on the grounds that it is “based on our previous experience”.

The number reflected “our expectations of how many people will be able to both be seeking to leave, and will be able to leave, over that time period”, The Independent was told.

“I think it’s important to emphasise that it’s very rare that people want to leave where they live and start life in another country,” the spokesman said.

The resettlement scheme has been widely criticised as inadequate – in the Commons, the prime minister was asked if other Afghans should “wait around and wait to be executed”.

It is on top of the existing Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme, which helps “current or former locally employed staff assessed to be at serious risk of threat to life” reach the UK.

And the government has set out an ambition to relocate up to 20,000 of the most vulnerable Afghans “in the long-term” – without saying how long that might take.

Downing Street said Afghans could either be brought to the UK from within Afghanistan or “from a neighbouring country if people go across the border”.

Some of the initial 5,000 could be flown directly from Kabul, the spokesman said, adding it was not “a hard requirement” for those people to be part of the ARAP programme.

“It’s hard to be definitive at this point about what the situation might be within Afghanistan,” the spokesman admitted.

Keir Starmer has attacked a lack of preparation, saying: “We have had 18 months to prepare and plan for the consequences of what followed, to plan and to prepare for the resettlement of refugees.”

Earlier, the head of the armed forces, General Sir Nick Carter, said; “There are a lot of desperate people trying to get to the airport,” – with the UK set to evacuate 1,000 people on Wednesday.

Mr Johnson’s spokesman said it was right to focus on “humanitarian support” on the ground, as a £143m aid increase was announced – reversing the cut made earlier this year

The G7 group of leading nations and “international diplomacy” would “hold the Taliban to account for their actions”, he added.

Downing Street also echoed Priti Patel in saying it would be unreasonable to expect local councils to resettle 20,000 people immediately.

“This is a comprehensive resettlement scheme that could involve housing, welfare, and obviously we need to make sure that is done properly, as we achieved successfully in the Syrian scheme.”

That programme saw just over 20,000 Syrians escape civil war to reach the UK, but took seven years to reach that total.

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