The UK government has pledged to resettle about 20,000 Afghan refugees over the next
five years, following the Taliban’s recent take over of the country.
The government’s announcement came after videos of thousands of Afghans clinging to
planes, escaping the Islamist party control of the country.
Taliban announced on Sunday that they seized power in the country after entering the
capital and the presidential palace a few hours after the president fled the country.
The Taliban group surrounded the capital after the US and NATO forces withdrew from the
country, after 20 years of occupations and losses in billions of dollars and about 2000
The pledge to take 20,000 Afghans follows an earlier call by charities, including Refugee
Action, for the UK government to provide safe routes for these Afghans escaping the
country, so they are not pushed into the arms of people traffickers.
There has been some speculation over the length of the programme. UK Home Secretary
Priti Patel has said the first 5,000 people would arrive over the next 12 months, with Boris
Johnson and Dominic Raab commenting that the UK cannot accommodate 20,000 people
all in one go.
The programme will run parallel to the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP).
Local staff who worked for the UK Government in Afghanistan, including interpreters,
teachers and community workers, will be eligible for relocation. Roughly 5,000 Afghans and
their family members will benefit from this scheme.
The Daily Express has run with the headline, “‘Big-hearted Britain’ to take 20,000
refugees,” about Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s comments that Britain is a generous
nation that has “always been a country that has provided a haven for that fleeing
However, the UN’s announcement that as many as 18 million Afghans, half the country,
need humanitarian assistance and roughly three million are internally displaced means
demand for places will hugely outweigh supply.
Several reports say the scheme will be modelled on the UK’s 2014 pledge to resettle
20,000 Syrian refugees over seven years with priority then given to torture survivors,
women, children, and people with medical conditions.
Under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme, 20,319 Syrian refugees were moved
to the UK from camps in the surrounding countries, including Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
However, in September 2019, the Scotsman reported that Scotland had welcomed twice as
many Syrian refugees as the UK average. The SNP said that the UK government failed to
meet its responsibilities and instead ramped up its anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Despite the resettlement scheme, hundreds of Syrians still died in the Mediterranean trying
to make it to Europe. A 2016 UK government pledge to help 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees, including Afghanistan and Syria, only helped 350.
Several people have spoken out about the Afghan resettlement scheme, with British Labour
politician Lord Dubs saying it is not going far enough.
The Defence Select Committee and Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood said it was a “woefully
As MPs were recalled to parliament today to debate Afghanistan, former PM Theresa May
criticised the government’s failure to prevent the collapse of the Afghan administration after the US withdrew its troops.
On Tuesday the United Nations said it is concerned about the safety of thousands of
Afghans who have worked on human rights in the country in recent years with the
spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Colville
urging the international community to give all possible support to people who may be at risk.
Moreover, the news comes amid controversy over a proposed bill which will grant asylum
seekers different rights whether they arrived in the UK legally or illegally, mainly in
reference to the people who arrive in small boats crossing the Channel on the southeast coast of England.
Throughout last year, 8,410 men, women and children made the crossing between France
and England and by 21 July this year, 8,159 people had already crossed.
The Nationality and Borders bill proposes that people who arrive in the UK “illegally”, for
example without a visa or on board one of these boats, will only be given temporary
refugee status, will always be at risk of removal and their access to benefits and family reunion could be curtailed.
Rights advocates have strongly warned against dividing refugees into “good” and “bad”.
This week Priti Patel has suggested that Afghans seeking refuge in the UK who arrive on
small boats across the Channel would not be considered an exception and would have to
come via the resettlement or ARAP scheme.
In an exclusive article for the Telegraph, Patel urged European countries to take Afghan
people fleeing their country, stating that “we cannot do this alone.”
“I want to ensure that as a nation we do everything possible to provide support to the most
vulnerable fleeing Afghanistan so they can start a new life in safety in the UK,” wrote Patel,
“away from the tyranny and oppression they face in Afghanistan.”
However, the Home Office has previously refused asylum to Afghan refugees with
immigration lawyer Jamie Bell commenting to the Guardian, that they have had a “lengthy
uphill battle to be recognised as refugees.”
The government has also used monthly charter flights to return Afghans who have had
their asylum claims rejected, back to the country.
But charities have long called for more legal routes to be made available to people arriving
in the UK, with numbers of people crossing the Channel set to continue to rise. Ministers
have warned that the UK must be prepared for a new refugee crisis and more deaths at sea.
Finally, Refugee and migrant rights director at Amnesty, Steve Valdez-Symonds, had said
the resettlement programme was “unforgivably slow” and asked whether Afghans arriving
in the UK or those already here will be “criminalised and vilified” by the government’s new bill.