Many Afghans currently trapped in their country that was seized by the Taliban over two years ago, were promised refuge in the UK at the time, but not all is going according to plan. Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron revealed the difficulties that Britain is facing to fulfil its promises.
Afghans Promised Safe Refuge Must Wait
Over two years have passed since the Taliban seized control in Afghanistan, and a different reality persists for a significant number of individuals promised refuge in the UK.
Lord Cameron, the foreign secretary, has recently shed light on this concerning situation in a letter to Members of Parliament, drawing attention to the challenges faced by those deemed eligible for the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS). This article delves into the issues and mounting concerns surrounding the UK’s efforts to relocate vulnerable Afghan refugees.
Lord Cameron’s revelation that less than 700 individuals, qualified under the ACRS for vulnerable refugees, remain stranded in Afghanistan is a distressing fact. Perhaps even more disheartening is the revelation of cases where individuals, including an Afghan interpreter who served with the British army, faced deportation back to Afghanistan while awaiting relocation assistance.
The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS)
Within the broader Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, Lord Cameron oversees a specific pathway tailored for British Council teachers and contractors, embassy security workers, and young scholars on the Chevening program.
Initially promising to bring 1,500 people to the UK through this specialized route, progress has been undeniably sluggish, leaving a substantial number of Afghans stranded in Pakistan, Iran, and their home country.
Alicia Kearns, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, voiced significant concerns about the government’s performance in processing and resettling eligible Afghans. In a detailed letter to Lord Cameron, Kearns questioned the reasons behind the delays, seeking tangible assurances regarding the expeditious processing of relocation requests.
“The government is far below its targets in processing and resettling eligible Afghans to the UK; why is this the case?” she questioned, “And what are you doing to ensure the processing times are significantly accelerated?” The government’s inability to meet its established targets has left Afghans in a state of limbo, prompting legal challenges and heightening concerns about their safety and well-being.
Government Response and Challenges
In response to the raised concerns, Lord Cameron divulged that two flights had been meticulously arranged to bring Afghans from Pakistan to the UK in December. However, he acknowledged that the situation remains dire, with hundreds still stranded in Afghanistan and others facing similar challenges in Iran.
The government’s coordination efforts have encountered significant hurdles, including the imperative need for Afghan documentation and the intricacies of securing visas from third countries, such as Pakistan. Lord Cameron stated that “Almost all of the most vulnerable undocumented” Afghans will get their chance to flee come December.
Previous reports suggested that British diplomats issued warnings to the government regarding the safety of Afghans eligible for sanctuary but trapped in Pakistan and Iran. Legal challenges mounted against the government, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, along with the home secretary, defence secretary, and foreign secretary, facing legal scrutiny over the failure to relocate individuals left in precarious situations.
Looking Ahead and Ongoing Efforts
Despite the challenges, Lord Cameron sought to reassure stakeholders that comprehensive “plans are in place” to bring the remaining 1,500 eligible Afghans under the Foreign Office pathway to the UK. However, he stressed the “difficult to predict” timeline, citing the intricate process of obtaining necessary Afghan documentation and securing visas from third countries.
Efforts are actively underway to expedite the evacuation of those stranded in Iran, with the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) staff in Tehran diligently addressing the matter. “It depends partly on them securing the necessary Afghan documentation for the Taliban to allow them to leave, and partly on securing visas from third countries such as Pakistan to allow them to cross the border,” Cameron stressed.
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Drop of Light.