UK urged to relax rules as number of Afghan asylum seekers triples

Campaigners say it is surprising that a promised scheme has yet to open and are calling on the government to urgently expand support.

A man is helped ashore by a member of the Border Force after making the journey across the English Channel. He was one of nearly 1200 people who have taken this route into the UK from France in the past four days. Getty Images

The number of asylum applicants to the UK from Afghanistan has tripled since the Taliban takeover.

It rose from 435 between April and June, to 1,093 between July and September, when Kabul fell.

The failure of the UK government to set up the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme or to provide other safe avenues for relocation is forcing vulnerable Afghans to make the “heartbreaking choice” to live in fear in their country or take the “gut-wrenching decision” to leave via dangerous routes, the Refugee Council has warned.

After Taliban forces took control of Kabul during a military offensive in August, British forces flew out 12,000 Afghans who had worked with the UK government under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy.

Once the relocations under Operation Pitting ended, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel pledged to take in 20,000 Afghans as part of a new resettlement scheme and committed to bringing 5,000 people within the first year.

However, four months after that announcement, campaigners say it is surprising that the scheme has yet to open and are calling on the government to urgently expand support.

“It is critical the government brings forward the scheme they promised and help provide the safe routes and support these people both desperately need and deserve,” said Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council.

A lack of options and calmer conditions at sea may explain the surge in migrants crossing the Channel recently. About 1,200 people were smuggled to the UK from France in the past four days, information provided by the Home Office shows. The latest figures bring the tally of crossings this year to 27,806 – more than triple the number recorded last year.

The UK’s new Nationality and Borders Bill, if passed by the House of Lords, would criminalise migrants who make their way into the country “illegally” and the Refugee Council has urged the government to “rethink” the disputed legislation.

“Given the very limited options for people fleeing persecution and violence to reach the UK safely, they too often have no choice but to embark on perilous, life threatening journeys to reach the UK. This often sees them making terrifying journeys across other countries and for some it ends with them having to cross the Channel,” said Ms Solomon.

Last month, 27 people, including those fleeing Afghanistan, drowned in the worst loss of life incident in recent migrant crossings when their boat capsized in the Channel.

The charity also called on family reunion rules to be expanded so relatives “are not torn apart” by the Afghan crisis. Authorities were also urged to process asylum cases from Afghanistan quickly. Figures from the Home Office revealed that there are more than 4,000 Afghans awaiting a decision on their asylum claims, with nearly 2,500 waiting for more than six months.

Updated: December 20th 2021, 11:25 AM