Only ‘handful’ of Afghans refugees brought to UK under flagship scheme


Only a “handful” of Afghans have been brought to safety in the UK under schemes set up to help vulnerable refugees from the war-torn country.

Just 54 people have been resettled under the government’s flagship scheme designed to help those who were not supported during the initial evacuation after the fall of Kabul in August 2021.

Meanwhile, the number of Afghans risking their lives in Channel crossings has sky-rocketed as they struggle to access the government’s beleagered resettlement schemes. New official figures show 8,429 Afghans arrived in the UK on a small boat in the year ending March 2023, compared to 2,466 a year earlier.

Charities have claimed Afghans, including war veterans, are being driven to take risky journeys because so few are finding help through the schemes.

The Independent is campaigning for Afghans who worked alongside British armed forces to be given safe haven in the UK. It comes after we revealed the plight of an air force lieutenant who served alongside coalition forces and is now being threatened with deportation to Rwanda after fleeing to the UK on a small boat.

After the Office for National Statistics figures were released, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said the schemes were “not fit for purpose”.

Following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, Boris Johnson and Priti Patel launched “Operation Warm Welcome” and pledged to give Afghans who worked alongside the British new lives in the UK. The government said it would resettle up to 20,000 people through the Home Office’s Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS).

The scheme was set up in January 2022 for those who “assisted the UK efforts in Afghanistan” and for vulnerable groups, such as women and girls at risk.

It pledged to resettle more than 5,000 people within the first year and these spots were filled by Afghans who had already been brought to the UK under the initial evacuation programme. Around 9,000 people have been helped through this pathway, government stats show.

However under pathway 2 of the scheme, which is for those who are outside the UK, just 40 people have been resettled in the UK via referral from the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR.

Pathway 3 of the scheme was set up for Afghans who held specific roles as British embassy workers, British Council contractors or Afghans with UK study scholarships. Only 14 people have come to the UK under this pathway, according to ONS figures released on Thursday.

Charities have pointed out that it is not possible to apply directly for ACRS pathway 1 or 2. Refugees must be referred by the UNHCR to pathway 2, and they cannot register with the UNHCR if they are in Afghanistan.

The JCWI said: “The UK resettles only a handful of people each year. Safe routes have been shut down and existing schemes are not fit for purpose – we have only resettled 40 Afghans under pathway 2 of ACRS.

“We must provide more opportunities for refugees to live happily and rebuild their lives here.”

There has also been a dip in the number of people coming to the UK through the Ministry of Defence’s Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, which is for Afghans who had worked for the British forces in exposed roles.

55 people arrived under this scheme in the first quarter of 2023, a drop from the 1,515 people helped in July to September 2022. The government stopped charter flights to the UK for Arap-eligible Afghans who are living in Pakistan in November last year.

Since then, Afghans have been told they have to source their own accommodation in the UK and provide proof of finances if they want to come to the UK.

A growing number of senior military chiefs, politicians and celebrities have backed The Independent’s campaign. Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer, former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Hollywood director Guy Ritchie, music legend Sting, and former head of the UK armed forces General Sir David Richards have all called for the government to stand by those Afghans who supported the British mission.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud history of providing protection for those who genuinely need it through our safe and legal routes, and we welcomed over a hundred thousand people from Ukraine and Hong Kong last year.”

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