Home Office ‘to keep Afghan refugee policy under review’ as government responds to Taliban takeover

Scope of resettlement to be considered ‘based on capacity for support’, the department says
Taliban militants in Kandahar city, southern Afghanistan, last week. Photo Alamy

By Noa Hoffman

17 Aug 2021

The Home Office has said it will keep the number of Afghan refugees allowed to resettle in Britain “under review” after their country was taken under control of the Taliban, leading thousands to flee.

The department confirmed that Britain’s refugee intake will be guided by the capacity of local authorities, central government and community sponsor groups to provide housing and to support arrivals to “integrate” and “thrive” in their new communities.

To date, 3,300 Afghans fleeing the Taliban have been resettled in the UK. Visa requirements for the families of British nationals in Afghanistan have been waived.

Most Afghan arrivals have been granted residency under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme, however this immigration route only applies to “current or former locally employed staff assessed to be at serious risk of threat to life”.

Yesterday, cross-party MPs and peers have called on Boris Johnson to open Britain’s borders to all those fleeing Taliban persecution, in particular female leaders, journalists and charity workers who campaigned to advance women’s rights.

But the Home Office says that keeping refugee numbers under review will enable the department to take a flexible approach the issue and will allow officials to focus on those in need. A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have so far resettled over 3,300 Afghan interpreters, staff and their families who served alongside our brave military.

“Our officials are working as quickly as possible to bring more people to safety in the United Kingdom.

“No one should be in any doubt of our commitment to build upon our proud history of resettling refugees in need of protection.

"Since 2015 we have resettled more than 25,000 vulnerable refugees, around half of whom are children, and earlier this year the home secretary opened a new visa for Hong Kong BN(O) status holders to reflect the UK’s historic and moral commitment to those who have had their rights and freedoms restricted.

“Through our New Plan for Immigration we will strengthen safe and legal routes to the UK for refugees from regions of conflict and instability, and discourage dangerous journeys.”

News of Home Office plans for refugees follows reports by The Times that home secretary Priti Patel is drawing up a specific system to enable tens of thousands of Afghans to claim asylum.

On Monday night No.10 said the government would soon announce the details of a resettlement scheme for Afghan refugees, designed to provide safe haven to those most in need like women and girls.

The Labour leadership is still considering the number of vulnerable people, beyond those eligible for ARAP, it would like to see offered asylum in Britain, according to CSW’s sister title PoliticsHome.

However, sources said the party hopes to see a coordinated international agreement, with every country stepping up to help those fleeing persecution.

Liberal Democrats today confirmed to PoliticsHome that they will call for at least 20,000 Afghans to be resettled in the UK, in line with Canada’s pledge.

Foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran said: “There are tens of thousands of Afghans who will be anxious and panicked about what their future holds under the barbaric regime of the Taliban.

“Many will simply find it too unsafe for them and their families to remain in Afghanistan. They will want to escape, and Britain must not turn its back on them now. That is why we are calling on the government to resettle at least 20,000 Afghan refugees.

“Britain has a long and proud history of providing sanctuary to those who need it most, and we must exercise that same compassion today.”

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has today announced the government will increase aid spending on Afghanistan, "probably by 10%," after the country fell into the control of the Taliban.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the government would up its aid spending for "development and humanitarian purposes" after admitting that the government had been "caught off guard" by the speed at which the Islamist military group had taken over Afghanistan.

The government does not want the money to "go through the Taliban," he stressed.

The announcement is part of package of government measures put together to respond to the quickly- deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of people are fleeing to avoid Taliban rule.

However, the increase to UK aid spending on Afghanistan comes after the government slashed it by an estimated 78% as part of a controversial reduction of overall aid spending earlier this year.

Raab this morning said the entire international community had been surprised by the lightning speed at which the Taliban swept across Afghanistan before taking control of the capital Kabul.

"I’ve spoken not just to our closest partners but countries in the region from Pakistan to Qatar. All of those were caught off guard," he told the BBC.

"What we’ve done though is react as rapidly, swiftly, and decisively as we can against very difficult situations on the ground in Afghanistan, Kabul in particular to prioritise evacuating our nationals and the Afghan staff who served us so loyally, but also working now with the international community to make sure we don’t lose the gains you described.”

In a seperate interview with Sky News, the Foreign Secretary admitted the UK had not foreseen what would happen in Afghanistan after following the contorversial US move to withdraw troops from the country.

"No one saw this coming — of course we would have taken action if we had," he said.

Noa Hoffman is a reporter for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.  Adam Payne also contributed to this report

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