Government ‘failing Afghans as safe routes not matching scale of need’

Government ‘failing Afghans as safe routes not matching scale of need’

Vulnerable Afghans are being failed by Government, a humanitarian group said as figures showed just 107 were resettled in the UK in the year to June under part of a scheme set up to help the most in need.

The latest statistics come as it was confirmed Afghans were the most common nationality to arrive by Channel crossings in the first half of 2023.

There were at least 1,474 Afghan nationals who arrived in small boats from January to June, Home Office figures showed.

Separately, Afghans were the second most common nationality applying for asylum in the year to June 2023, with 9,964 applications, almost double the number in the previous 12 months (5,154).

After the Taliban takeover in August 2021, the British military airlifted thousands of people from the country to safety in the UK, and set up two schemes to help others left behind.

But both the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) and Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) have faced criticism from campaigners and charities which branded them too slow and suggested people desperately fleeing the Taliban have felt forced to make dangerous Channel crossings instead.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) UK said the numbers “reveal the shocking reality of the Government’s failure to provide protection for vulnerable Afghans”.

Under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) – which is split into three pathways – some 233 people were resettled in the UK in the year to June, the latest official figures released on Thursday showed.

A total of 66 people were resettled under pathway two – the strand that covers vulnerable refugees referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), while some 41 people came under the third pathway covering those who supported the UK and international community efforts in Afghanistan, or are particularly vulnerable, such as women and girls.

Pathway one, focused on those who arrived in the UK under the evacuation programme or who were unable to board flights at the time of the large-scale evacuation, has seen 126 people resettled in the year to June.

PA infographic showing cumulative arrivals by people crossing the English Channel in small boats
(PA Graphics)

Another scheme, the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) which was launched in April 2021 for those who worked for or with the UK Government in Afghanistan, saw 2,336 people resettled in the UK in the 12 months to June this year.

The Government pledged to resettle more than 5,000 people in the first year of ACRS, and up to 20,000 over the coming years.

In the two years between July 2021 and June this year, a total of 9,778 people had been resettled under ACRS – although more than 9,000 were resettled before the scheme had officially opened in January 2022.

Laura Kyrke-Smith, executive director of IRC, said: “These statistics reveal the shocking reality of the Government’s failure to provide protection for vulnerable Afghans, with just 233 Afghans brought to the UK under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) over the past year.

“In pushing forward the Illegal Migration Act, the Government time and time again assured concerned Parliamentarians and the British public that there existed ‘safe routes’ for refugees from countries like Afghanistan.

“These statistics show that these routes simply aren’t matching the scale of the need. Instead, the majority of the almost 10,000 Afghans seeking safety in the UK were forced to make dangerous journeys across the Channel.”

The organisation called on the Government to “urgently deliver on its commitments to eligible Afghans waiting to find safety in the UK”, insisting the 20,000 cap must be lifted and saying the scheme must be “properly resourced to accelerate delivery” as well as a clear process being put in place for reuniting Afghan families with loved ones already in the UK.

There were 6,575 Afghans in hotels or serviced accommodation by the end of June – half of whom were children, the Government said.

Afghans were given a deadline to leave hotels by the end of August, with Cabinet Office minister Johnny Mercer recognising earlier this month that the announcement had been “a controversial move” but insisted it was done “with compassion in mind” to get people into permanent accommodation.

Councils have expressed concerns that many of those evicted from hotels could end up presenting as homeless, therefore needing temporary accommodation.

The Government said it is continuing to work with the UNHCR and others “to identify at-risk people, including women and girls, for resettlement in the UK”.

A Government spokesperson said: “No one should be risking their lives by crossing the Channel or taking dangerous and illegal routes to reach the UK – there are safe and legal routes to come here.

“The number of Afghans which the UK has committed to resettling under the ACRS scheme is generous, and greater than many of our international counterparts.”