New Beginnings: Is the UK government doing enough to ensure safety for vulnerable Afghans?
September 23, 2021
3 min read
What's going on here?
As the Taliban take over in Afghanistan, thousands of people are fleeing the country and looking to start new lives elsewhere. The UK has already airlifted about 14,000 people out of Kabul, and the government has now announced their plans to welcome 25,000 vulnerable Afghans over the next five years.
What does this mean?
On Saturday 28th August, the last flight evacuating Afghan nationals left Kabul airport for the UK. This concludes a two-week evacuation process in which about 14,000 people have been carried out of Afghanistan by British forces. About 8,000 of these are Afghan nationals removed under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) which aims to protect Afghans who have worked with the British government and as a result, are in danger under the new Taliban rule. However, defence secretary Ben Wallace estimates that up to 1,100 people have been left behind. Any further flights out of Afghanistan will also carry UK diplomatic and military personnel, many of whom have been overseeing the evacuation process.
Following the 8,000 Afghans who were evacuated by British troops under the ARAP scheme, it is expected that 5,000 more will come to settle in the UK under this scheme by the end of the year. This includes Afghans who have fled Afghanistan but have not yet made their way to the UK.
In addition to the ARAP scheme, the government is launching an Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, under which 20,000 Afghans will be able to settle in the UK over the next five years. It is expected that 5,000 will arrive before the end of 2021. Priority will be given to women and girls, and minority groups who are most at risk of human rights abuses by the Taliban. The government has said that ‘vulnerable Afghan citizens who were called forward by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office but could not be evacuated will be guaranteed a place’ under the resettlement scheme.
What's the big picture effect?
Although the government appears pleased with their efforts to evacuate people from Afghanistan and with their plans to welcome Afghans over the coming months and years, many are concerned that the schemes will not do enough. The government claims that ‘this new route is modelled on the successful Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, which resettled 20,000 Syrian refugees over seven years from 2014 to 2021. However, many question why we are not resettling more Afghan citizens, considering the fact that Afghanistan’s population is double that of Syria and the UK has been an active participant in the conflict.
In addition, there is concern that the government has not allocated sufficient funding to ensure that all those arriving in the UK can be provided with accommodation, healthcare, education, integration assistance and employment training.
Finally, following Priti Patel’s new Nationality and Borders Bill, there are concerns that Afghans arriving independently from either scheme but rather via unauthorised routes will not find the safety they are seeking. The New Plan for Immigration (published 24 March 2021) aims to deter illegal entry into the UK by increasing criminal penalties for those discovered to have entered via unauthorised means. There are concerns that the attitude towards asylum seekers and immigrants embodied by these policies is not compatible with hopes of welcoming anyone who comes to the UK from Afghanistan fleeing danger and seeking a new life in safety.
Report written by Elizabeth Ambrose
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