Home Office slashes number of Afghan refugees allowed into UK after fleeing Taliban

Boris Johnson accused of ‘another broken promise’ - as referrals from UN cut from 5,000 to ‘up to 2,000’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 14 June 2022 09:43 BST
Taliban Takes Control Of Kabul Airport

The Home Office is slashing the number of Afghan refugees to be allowed into the UK after fleeing the country – after finally launching a scheme following months of delay.

When Kabul fell to the Taliban amid terrifying scenes last August, ministers promised that 5,000 Afghans would be welcomed in the first year, primarily from emergency camps in neighbouring countries.

But ministers now say only “up to 2,000” will be admitted over 12 months through that route, working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Instead, it is counting thousands of people airlifted out of the country last August towards the 5,000 target for the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS).

Stephen Kinnock, Labour’s shadow minister for immigration, attacked the failure to meet the 5,000 pledge, which had been Boris Johnson’s attempt to “redeem himself” for the botched withdrawal.

“The government now makes clear it will fail to meet that target. This is yet another promise broken by the prime minister,” he told The Independent.

“Meanwhile the home secretary is now seeking to send a number of those very Afghans to Rwanda. This is a shameful and profoundly un-British mess.”

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson, said: “We were told that 5,000 people would come to the UK in the first year of the new scheme. But it turns out they are double counting people who had already been evacuated.”

The announcement follows fierce criticism of the government for dragging its heels on the ACRS – which was only finally confirmed in January, five months after the Taliban takeover.

Around 15,000 refugees were evacuated to the UK in chaotic schemes as Western forces pulled out, but only on temporary six-month visas – without permission to remain here permanently.

Mr Johnson promised to bring in “another 5,000 Afghans” through “a new and bespoke resettlement scheme focusing on the most vulnerable, particularly women and children”.

But the Home Office now says it has already exceeded this target, arguing “around 6,500 people” brought to the UK in the initial evacuation last year “are eligible for the ACRS”.

“We anticipate receiving referrals from UNHCR for up to 2,000 refugees during the first year of this pathway, although this number will be kept under review,” a statement said.

The announcement also cast doubt on a pledge to admit 20,000 further refugees over five years, saying only: “We will continue to receive UNHCR referrals to the scheme in coming years.”

Up to a further 1,500 “at risk” people, contractors for the British Council, security staff and former Chevening scholars, and their family members, will also be referred for resettlement.

Zoe Gardner, head of policy at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, condemned the “paltry number of Afghan refugees” the government is accepting.

“They’ve slammed the brakes on the Afghan resettlement scheme and they refuse to introduce the family reunion routes, or humanitarian visas, that would prevent people from risking their lives to get here,” she said.

But a Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK is taking a leading role in the international response to supporting at-risk Afghan citizens and has made one of the largest commitments to resettlement of any country.”

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