UK's new Afghan resettlement scheme to open in January

Home Office confirms that the UK's pledge to take up to 20,000 refugees will begin next month

Campaigners have called for more help and clarity from the UK Government on the resettlement process of vulnerable Afghans. Alamy

The UK Government’s programme to help Afghans fleeing the Taliban settle in the UK will open in January, the Home Office announced on Thursday.

Five months after it was announced by Home Secretary Priti Patel in August, the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) will begin next month and “build upon the UK’s continuing efforts to support those at risk,” the department said.

Shortly after Taliban forces took control of the country’s capital Kabul, the UK said it would take up to 20,000 refugees overall and as many as 5,000 in the first year. More than 300 councils have pledged their support to families.

The Home Office said the ACRS would prioritise those who have assisted UK efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for British values, including “democracy, women’s rights, freedom of speech and rule of law” as well as “extremely vulnerable” people such as women and girls at risk and members of minority groups.

Minister for Afghan Resettlement, Victoria Atkins, said the resettlement scheme provided "a safe and legal way for the most vulnerable and at-risk people from Afghanistan to come to the United Kingdom and rebuild their lives”.

Ms Atkins will set out further detail on how the ACRS will operate in an update to Parliament in January.

After the fall of Kabul, about 15,000 people, including 12,000 Afghans, were flown out of their country to the UK under Operation Pitting.

Most are here under the Afghan Relocation Assistance Police (ARAP), a separate scheme, designed for those who helped the British effort in the country.

Despite the UK government’s promise of a “warm welcome”, months later many of the new arrivals remain unsettled and unsure of their futures living in temporary bridging hotels while they wait for permanent housing and residency cards.

Amid the chaotic and dangerous final days of British military presence in Afghanistan, hundreds of vulnerable Afghans were left behind and families in the UK have been desperate to find a way out for them.

The Home Office said they had brought a further 1,500 Afghans to the UK since Operation Pitting ended. Some of those already rescued, including women’s rights activists, journalists, and prosecutors, will be among those to be resettled under the new ACRS, it said.

Anyone resettled under the new scheme will be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK, which includes the right to work and study.

Local authorities have been given funding to support those starting a new life in the UK, with £20,520 per person provided over three years. The Home Office said they would also receive extra funds for children entering education, to cover English language learning, and to cover health care.

The scheme, the Government said, was part of its New Plan for Immigration, which aims to break the business model of criminal trafficking networks as well as remove more illegal immigrants and make the system fairer.

Updated: December 23rd 2021, 6:55 PM