The UK government pledged to relocate up to 5,000 Afghans in the UK in the first year, according to a new scheme unveiled ahead of Wednesday’s emergency debate in the House of Commons on the crisis in Afghanistan, with the resettlement plan to be later reviewed to grant relocation to a total of 20,000 individuals from the war-torn nation.
Afghans attempting to illegally cross the Channel into the UK on small boats will be treated no different to other migrants, Priti Patel appears to have indicated.
No exception would be made for those using the “irregular route” as they flee from the Taliban* Islamist group, according to the UK Home Secretary, who appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Wednesday.
“They will claim asylum in the way in which people who enter our system are currently claiming asylum,” said Priti Patel.
Taliban, removed from power in Afghanistan by US-led forces in 2001, has claimed control of the country once again following a rapid offensive after US and NATO forces began their withdrawal in May. After seizing the Afghan capital Kabul on Sunday and proclaiming their return to power, the ex-president Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
© REUTERS / Stringer
A member of Taliban (C) stands outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16
Priti Patel warned potential arrivals against attempting to resort to illegal means.
“Illegal means also means that they’re travelling through many safe countries. Irregular migration doesn’t just manifest in the UK, people are travelling through European countries – they can claim asylum in European countries,” said Patel on the Today programme.
© AFP 2021 / BEN STANSALL
Migrants picked up at sea whilst Crossing the English Channel, but intercepted but intercepted bu UK Border Force officials, travel in a RIB with as they are brought into the Marina in Dover, southeast England on August 15, 2020. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP)
The UK Home Secretary underscored that people allowed to resettle in Britain would have to come through one of two schemes. The first is the new programme which the government claims will allow 20,000 Afghan refugees to arrive in the UK over the next five years to “start a new life in safety”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the government’s resettlement plans ahead of the Wednesday debate on Afghanistan in parliament, which was recalled from summer recess.
The new Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme presupposes that up to 5,000 Afghans will be relocated to the UK in the first year, with women, girls, religious and other minorities deemed to be most at risk of human rights abuses given priority, according to Sky News. Subsequently, after a review at the end of the first year, the plan aims to grant relocation to Britain to a total of 20,000 Afghans.
The scheme is a modification of the seven-year programme that was applied to Syrian refugees under then-Prime Minister David Cameron.
Apprehending possible criticism, Patel said the aim of the new resettlement system was not to “criminalise” Afghan refugees. She also defended the number of people the government has said would be helped over five years, saying, “We cannot accommodate 20,000 people all in one go.”
As to the timeline, Patel failed to clarify when exactly the first people to be resettled under the new programme would arrive in the UK.
© REUTERS / HANNAH MCKAY
Arriving passengers queue at UK Border Control at the Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in London
According to the Home Secretary, those accepted under the scheme would be provided with housing, welfare support and job and employment help. This scheme will run separately to the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap), launched in April. The latter offers relocation for those who helped British operations in Afghanistan. It has also been confirmed that the Home Office would waive visa requirements for some Afghan citizens to allow them into the UK.
“Requests for a visa waiver are passed from the [Foreign Office] to Border Force to rapidly assess, and all cases are considered on their individual merits. This approach is in line with standard procedures for visa waivers in a crisis scenario, which can be issued to allow individuals into the country on compelling and compassionate grounds,” a Home Office spokesperson was cited by The Guardian as saying.
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and closure of visa processing centres in Afghanistan due to the deteriorating security situation, even before Taliban swept to power applying for a visa to enter the UK was challenging. The process was often lengthy and expensive for Afghan nationals.
Patel also urged France to “do more” to ensure people claim asylum there rather than proceeding to the UK and embarking upon their “dangerous journeys”.
Overall, the government’s new resettlement programme has been welcomed, but some charities believe it will fall short of helping those in imminent danger.
The programme was described as being “unforgivably slow” and not “focused on the most immediate emergency for people at risk in the country” by Steve Valdez-Symonds, refugee and migrant rights director at Amnesty International UK.
“And what, meanwhile, about Afghans who make their own way to the UK to seek asylum or who are already here? Will they still be vilified and criminalised by the government’s draconian new asylum measures?” he said.
While Ministers flail around trying to repair the glaring exposure by calamity in #Afghanistan of their failed policies on asylum & immigration, important to keep a clear focus. Some thoughts follow: 1/12
— Steve Valdez-Symonds (@stevesymondsAI) August 17, 2021
Tim Naor Hilton, CEO of Refugee Action, said that it should not have taken “a crisis on this scale for the Government to finally set an ambitious refugee resettlement target”.
*The Taliban is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and many other nations.