UK ‘leaving Afghans behind’ with domestic rehousing scheme
“Due to the success of the evacuation in unprecedented circumstances, there are about 6,500 people in the UK who have been brought to safety during and after the evacuation who are eligible for the scheme,” says Atkins
LONDON: A UK scheme to rehouse more than 6,500 evacuated Afghans in Britain risks abandoning those still trapped in a “desperately unsafe” situation in Afghanistan, experts have warned.
Britain evacuated more than 15,000 Afghans as part of Operation Pitting last year, but the country’s relocation policies have faced severe setbacks, with many Afghans still housed in temporary hotels around the UK.
The new project, the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, aims to alleviate pressure by rehousing Afghans already in the UK.
However, the policy change has faced criticism over its exclusion of Afghans still trapped in their home country. Many are said to be at serious risk of Taliban reprisal.
In a parliamentary statement, Victoria Atkins, the British minister for Afghan resettlement, defended the new scheme.
She said: “The scheme will prioritize those who have assisted UK efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for UK values such as democracy, women’s rights, freedom of speech, and rule of law; and vulnerable people such as women and girls at risk, and members of minority groups.
“Due to the success of the evacuation in unprecedented circumstances, there are about 6,500 people in the UK who have been brought to safety during and after the evacuation who are eligible for the scheme,” Atkins added.
Shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, claimed that the UK government was “breaking their pledge” to help Afghans escape the Taliban.
She said: “People have been expecting the scheme to open for five months but there is still no sign of more people being helped, despite the fact that many who worked for and helped our armed forces were left behind and the humanitarian crisis is escalating.”
There are also concerns that an internal government dispute over the cost of rehousing Afghans in Britain has led to a scaling down of the larger strategy.
Recently, a minister said: “The Treasury won the argument, and that means there’ll be fewer refugees resettled.”
Enver Solomon, chief executive officer of the Refugee Council, said: “We are very concerned that the target of supporting up to 20,000 people through the resettlement scheme announced in January simply doesn’t go far enough.
“In reality there are many more Afghans in great need who will not be eligible for the scheme, leaving them desperately unsafe and with no choice but to embark on dangerous journeys, exploited by people smugglers, to find safety.”