UK falling short of target to resettle 5,000 Afghans after fall of Kabul

The Conservative government has come under fire for failing to offer safe passage out of the Taliban-controlled country

A member of Taliban security stands guard on top of an ancient fortress in Ghazni province. AFP
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The British government has been condemned for failing to help Afghans after only a handful of the 5,000 Afghans it had pledged to resettle were approved to travel to the UK.

The government set the target for the first year of the scheme plus up to 20,000 over the coming years.

Almost 18 months later, Conservative MP Caroline Nokes warned there remains “no viable routes to safety for Afghan women with family members in the UK”.

Asked about the lack of help being offered to Afghans, Rishi Sunak’s chief spokesman told reporters that the figure was less than the number the UK had taken in a military operation following the Taliban takeover. “During the initial process we brought out far more than 5,000.”

Operation Pitting saw the British Army evacuate more than 15,000 Afghans from Kabul airport following the Taliban’s seizure of the city. “We are still working to resettle those that are already in the UK,” the spokesman said.

Only four people have been accepted and evacuated from Afghanistan under the Home Office’s Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme (ACRS), launched in January, according to The Independent’s analysis of Home Office figures.

More than 10,000 Afghans are still living in hotels as they await more permanent accommodation.

The British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group said it was “disheartening” to see the figures which prove the UK “is failing in its promise” to help Afghans. “The government must step up and address the failings of the ACRS and ARAP schemes as a matter of urgency,” the advocacy umbrella group added.

Members of the Taliban respond to Afghan women protesting against the group's treatment of Hazaras. AFP

Stephen Farry, MP and deputy leader of the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland, slammed the government’s lack of effort.

“Afghans at risk were promised safe and legal routes,” he said. “As suspected, it was just a mirage. Yet, I and other MPs continue to receive heartbreaking pleas from those desperate to flee, including many who are in hiding.”

The Observer reported that between five and eight civil servants are working on the ACRS scheme — significantly fewer than the 540 personnel who were working on Britain’s Ukrainian refugee programmes earlier this year.

Stephen Kinnock, Labour’s shadow minister for immigration, said the lack of help offered to vulnerable Afghans is down to “incompetence and indifference”.

“Around 9,000 of the loyal-to-Britain Afghans who were airlifted to safety are still languishing in temporary accommodation at a cost of more than £1 million a day to the British tax payer," he said.

“These important new findings show how Operation Warm Welcome has become Operation Cold Shoulder, due to the Conservative government's toxic combination of incompetence and indifference.

“Ministers must as a matter of urgency clear the asylum backlog at home, while working more effectively with the UNHCR to keep the promises they made last autumn to bring vulnerable Afghans to safety. Britain owes a debt of gratitude to these courageous Afghans, and it is a debt that must be honoured.”

More than a year on from the rise of the Taliban, women continue to be denied the right to an education and employment.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman added that the government would continue to offer help to vulnerable Afghans “if they meet the criteria”.

Labour MP Diane Abbott, a former shadow home secretary, accused government ministers of making “the false claim that specific country resettlement schemes are a suitable alternative to treating all refugees humanely.”

“They are not,” she added.

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Updated: December 05, 2022, 5:30 PM