As published by i News:
Thousands of Afghan refugees will be granted permission to resettle in the UK in the next few years following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, the Government has said.
The scheme, which was signed off on Tuesday, will see up to 20,000 people eligible to set up a new home in the UK, with the first group arriving from Afghanistan‘s capital on Tuesday night.
It follows an existing scheme for interpreters and other staff who worked for the UK during the military occupation of Afghanistan, from which around 5,000 workers and their family members are expected to benefit.
Announcing the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We owe a debt of gratitude to all those who have worked with us to make Afghanistan a better place over the last years.
“Many of them, particularly women, are now in urgent need of our help. I am proud that the UK has been able to put in place this route to help them and their families live safely in the UK.”
But who will be able to claim asylum as part of the scheme, and does it go far enough?
How will the resettlement scheme work?
Information on how people can apply is yet to be published, but the scheme will prioritise those deemed most at risk from the Taliban. This includes women, girls and religious minorities.
Of the 20,000 total, the Government has said only 5,000 people will be granted asylum in the UK in the first year.
It is similar to the resettlement programme that was introduced during the Syrian war, which saw 20,000 people move to the UK between 2014 and 2021.
That scheme also prioritised women with children, as well as survivors of torture and people with serious medical conditions. However, Afghanistan’s population is double that of Syria.
It is also likely that many of those who benefit from the Afghan scheme will have fled to neighbouring countries such as Pakistan before being resettled in the UK, as ministers do not know the extent to which the Taliban’s new regime will allow people to leave if they choose.
The Government will supply funding for the scheme and work with local councils and devolved governments to house the refugees.
It has also stressed that the plan will “not compromise on national security” and has said those arriving would have to pass “strict security checks”.
Why has it been criticised?
Cross-party MPs and refugee charities have criticised the scheme for not going far enough amid estimates that 400,000 people in Afghanistan have been forced to flee their homes since the start of the year.
Former Brexit minister and Tory MP, David Davis, said the UK should accept “north of 50,000 refugees”.
Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, a former army captain, told The Mirror it was a “woefully inadequate response”, and took issue with the Government capping numbers at 5,000 for the first year when “the threat is at its greatest”.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, the Shadow Home Secretary, welcomed a scheme being put in place but said it did “not meet the scale of the challenge”.
Meanwhile, Lib Dem foreign affairs spokeswoman, Layla Moran, said “20,000 should be the starting point for this scheme, not the target”.
Some charities have also said that the scheme’s timeframe is too slow and eligibility should be expanded. Beth Gardiner-Smith, chief executive of Safe Passage International, said: “The Government’s announcement fails to match the scale and pace needed in response to the emergency developing in Afghanistan.
“Britain can and should do more now, with hundreds of thousands having already fled their homes.”
How does it measure up in comparison to other countries?
Writing in The Telegraph, Home Secretary Priti Patel urged other countries to help. US president Joe Biden, who has been criticised for his handling of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, has authorised $500m from an emergency fund to meet “unexpected urgent” refugee needs.
This includes extra funding for applicants of Afghan special immigration visas who risk retaliation from the Taliban because they worked for the US government.
Canada has said it will resettle more than 20,000 vulnerable Afghans, including women leaders, human rights workers and reporters. It follows an earlier initiative to welcome thousands who worked for the Canadian government, including embassy workers and their families.
Uganda, Albania and Kosovo have also accepted requests to temporarily take in Afghan refugees.