Politics

Afghan resettlement scheme to finally open in January

Afghans who didn’t escape the Taliban takeover in the summer will finally get a chance to resettle in the UK next month – five months after the Kabul evacuation. 

The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) will open in January, providing up to 20,000 women, children, and others most at risk with a safe and legal route to the UK, ministers have announced. 

Priority will be given to those who have assisted UK efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for democracy, women’s rights, freedom of speech and rule of law, as well as extremely vulnerable people such as women and girls at risk and minority groups. 

The UK Government has faced fierce criticism over the length of time it has taken to implement the resettlement scheme that was quickly announced by Boris Johnson in August.

It committed to bringing another 5,000 Afghans to the UK this year and a further 15,000 in future years.

Taliban forces took control of Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul during a military offensive against the Afghan government in August, causing the mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.

Earlier this week the Refugee Council accused the Government of forcing thousands of vulnerable Afghans to make dangerous journeys from their homeland to seek safety because of the delay and called for “urgent action”. 

The latest official data highlighted by the charity shows the number of asylum applications from Afghanistan tripled in the period from July to September 2021 following the fall of Kabul in August.

Councils across Scotland have voiced their support to rehome Afghan refugees. In Fife, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, Afghans have been stuck in ‘bridging hotels’ since they arrive in the country – waiting for the resettlement scheme to open. 

Minister Victoria Atkins is set to give further detail on how the ACRS will operate in an update to Parliament in January.

“We are committed to supporting everyone we have evacuated from Afghanistan to make a success of their new life in the UK,” she said. “I’m very grateful to everyone who has stepped forward to help.

“The Afghan citizens resettlement scheme provides a safe and legal way for the most vulnerable and at-risk people from Afghanistan to come to the United Kingdom and rebuild their lives, as part of the New Plan for Immigration.

“Operation Warm Welcome is a huge national effort which could not succeed without the compassion and determination of our partners in local government, the private sector, voluntary organisations and the great British public.

“Every single one of them should be very proud.”

British troops undertook the biggest and fastest emergency evacuation in recent history in August, helping over 15,000 people to safety from Afghanistan – whose lives were at risk from the Taliban.

Around another 1,500 people have been helped to enter the UK since the evacuation, including; women’s rights activists, journalists, and prosecutors.

Those who have already been evacuated will be the first to be resettled under the ACRS. All those resettled under the ACRS will be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK, which includes the right to work and study.

The Government says it will also honour its commitments to those British Council and GardaWorld contractors and Chevening alumni who are at risk.

The policy, which applies across the UK, will see £20,520 allocated per person to councils over three years, to pay for resettlement and integration costs.

The UK Government also confirmed that councils that accommodate families will be given £4,500 per child for education, £850 to cover English language provision for adults who need help and £2,600 to cover healthcare. 

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said on Monday: “It is surprising that four long months since the fall of Kabul and the Government committed to the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme it isn’t up and running yet.

“Afghans have been left with a heart-breaking choice, either they stay in a country where they fear for their lives every day or take the gut-wrenching decision to leave and embark on a dangerous journey in an attempt to reach safety.

“Back in August the Government worked hard to respond to this unprecedented situation, but that initial support has waned and we have seen more limited action to help the people we owe a huge debt to.

“It is critical the Government brings forward the scheme they promised and help provide the safe routes and support these people both desperately need and deserve.”

 

 

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