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Politics

Some Afghans ‘won’t be here’ for UK resettlement if scheme is not sped up, MPs told

MPs said Afghan families and individuals are “fearing for their lives” under the Taliban with no idea when, or if, resettlement in the UK will materialise.

The UK government’s four-year window for the Afghan Resettlement Scheme risks some people “not being here” by the time they’re offered shelter in the UK, MPs have warned.

Leading a debate on the Afghan resettlement scheme on Thursday, DUP MP Jim Shannon questioned the government’s four-year time frame for settling up to 20,000 refugees, asking how the target could be justifiable when Afghans are now facing “life or death” situations under Taliban rule.

“I fear some people maybe won’t be here [by then], and their journey to the UK won’t happen,” Shannon said.

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The UK government first offered to resettle up to 20,000 Afghan refugees after the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan in August 2021.

The withdrawal led to thousands of citizens attempting to flee the country in fear of a return to hard-line Taliban rule.

In spite of announcing the scheme on August 18, the government neglected to release any further details until December 2021, with the scheme finally opening as of January 6.

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Speaking in a debate on the scheme, MPs warned that progress on resettlement remains too slow, with families and individuals in Afghanistan forced into hiding and “fearing for their lives” with no information regarding when, or if, they’ll be able to come to the UK.

Shannon said a multitude of different ethnic and religious groups, alongside LGBT+ people and women were now facing persecution under Taliban rule.

In one instance several months ago, said Shannon, the Taliban took a 14-year-old girl from her family.

“Months later, this family still has no idea what has happened to their daughter,” he said.

“Four years is too long to wait for vulnerable communities facing arrest, torture, extrajudicial killings, war crimes or even genocide,” he warned Victoria Atkins, Minister for Afghan Resettlement.

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Other MPs speaking in the debate said constituents with family in Afghanistan are “desperate for information” about the scheme, with little clarity so far offered to those wanting to apply.

Delay and confusion isn’t the only charge that’s been levelled at the government’s efforts to resettle Afghan citizens.

In December 2021, the government narrowed the criteria for the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap) intended to resettle those who had worked for the UK government in Afghanistan.

Prior to the change, those directly employed in Afghanistan by a UK government department on or after October 1 2001 only had to demonstrate an “imminent” risk of threat to their life to qualify for the scheme.

The change to the wording in December means that Afghans must show a “high and imminent” risk of threat to their life, narrowing eligibility criteria.

The government said that 7,000 people have already been assisted as part of the Arap scheme, though so far just one family has been resettled under the newly-opened Afghan Resettlement Scheme.

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