Hundreds still in Afghanistan awaiting resettlement says Cameron
Hundreds of people are still stuck in Afghanistan or other countries awaiting resettlement to the UK more than two years after the Taliban takeover, Lord Cameron has said.
Almost two thirds of people eligible to come to the UK under a scheme for those who directly supported the British and international community’s efforts during the war are yet to be resettled.
There has been one case of someone being deported back to Afghanistan despite being on a scheme for vulnerable refugees.
When Taliban militants returned to power in summer 2021 after western forces, including the US and UK, withdrew following a 20-year occupation, the British Government announced legal routes for those “most vulnerable and at risk” to come to the UK.
They committed to welcome up to 20,000 people under the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme (ACRS) but campaigners have criticised the process for being slow.
The scheme is split into three pathways, with the third specifically for British Council contractors, GardaWorld contractors and Chevening alumni – all of whom are deemed to have “directly supported the UK and international community’s efforts in Afghanistan”.
The Government initially put a cap of 1,500 places for this first stage of pathway three, but said that with eligible family members coming too, this would likely be exceeded.
There has been ongoing concern about eligible Afghans being stuck in other countries as they try to make it to the UK.
The plight of some elite veterans, who fought alongside UK forces but were since threatened with being deported back to their home country from Pakistan, was raised last month in the House of Lords.
Pakistan had announced it was expelling Afghans who took refuge there as part of an ongoing crackdown on people without valid papers.
Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has given an update on those awaiting resettlement in the UK, including hundreds still stuck in Afghanistan.
In a letter to Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Alicia Kearns, he said there had been two flights, one with 246 people on board, in December, meaning “that almost all of the most vulnerable undocumented EPs (eligible persons) will have left Pakistan” before a deadline of December 31, 2023.
He added: “Over a third of all those due to come to the UK under this first stage of ACRS pathway three will have got here before the end of the year.”
He said: “Plans are in place to bring the remainder of those now in third countries to the UK early in the New Year, leaving only those still in Afghanistan, of which our estimate is there are less than 700.”
He said that for those people their journey to the UK will depend on whether they can secure the necessary documentation to be allowed to leave Afghanistan, and visas for third countries, to cross the border.
On people being deported back to Afghanistan having fled, Lord Cameron said there had been one case under ACRS pathway two, which covers vulnerable refugees referred for resettlement to the UK by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
He said the Foreign Office was not aware of any deportations under pathway three or under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap) which was set up for Afghan citizens who worked for or with the UK Government in Afghanistan.
Lord Cameron said he was “not complacent” about deportations, adding: “We continue to work hard to try to ensure there are no further cases.”
Ms Kearns said this was a “cross-cutting, complex area” and that Lord Cameron had provided “some much-needed clarity on the current state of Afghan resettlement schemes and the remits and responsibilities in government”.
She said there was “finally” some “movement in the right direction”.
But she added there remain “serious concerns over the danger that eligible Afghans, including those who put their lives at risk for the UK, will be deported back to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan” which she said would be a “betrayal of the promises we made to them and would place them in substantial peril”.
She added: “It remains the case that two thirds of the Afghans eligible for resettlement in the UK under the first stage of ACRS pathway three haven’t been resettled, and this letter does not provide details on the Government’s plans to evacuate them to the UK.
“The Foreign Affairs Committee will continue to scrutinise the UK’s approach to the fallout from the Afghanistan evacuation, and advocate for those Afghans who made significant sacrifices on our behalf.”
Lord Cameron will appear before the Foreign Affairs committee next week for the first time since becoming Foreign Secretary.
Figures published in November, the latest available, showed that 1,110 Afghans arrived in the UK in the year to September under the legal routes created by the Home Office after the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.
Arrivals under the schemes were down from 5,346 in the year to September 2022.
Under the ACRS, 224 people were resettled in the UK in the year to September 2023, 96 of them aged under 18.
Some 886 arrived under Arap, of whom more than half (501) were under 18.
Published: by Radio NewsHub