Hundreds of Afghans still kept in ‘limbo’

Still in refugee camps and waiting to be transferred to the UK, are hundreds of Afghans who were promised resettlement in Britain more than 18 months ago.

The Home Office is facing pressure to transfer approximately 200 Afghan refugees who it accepted before March 2020 but due to the coronavirus pandemic were put on hold.

The department only last week announced that it was to introduce a new Afghan resettlement scheme to offer sanctuary to 5,000 people in the first year followed by 20,000 in the long term.

However, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) which aids global resettlement, is concerned that the scheme will mean a further delay for hundreds of already displaced Afghans, and hundreds more refugees from other parts of the world, who had been told they would be resettled in Britain but have been left in limbo.

Spokesperson for the organisation, Laura Padoan, said there were approximately 200 Afghans living in refugee camps and informal settlements in countries such as Turkey, Iran and India who had been identified for resettlement in the UK, but were as yet still to be transferred.  She went on to say that it wasn’t clear whether they would be included in the new resettlement scheme.

“A lot of Afghan refugees have been living in protracted, very difficult situations for a very long time, and that includes women at risk, children at risk, survivors of sexual violence and people with urgent medical needs.  Some of these people have been told they have been accepted by the UK but we don’t know when they will arrive”.

“We don’t have any details regarding whether the Afghan resettlement scheme will see the UNHCR identify refugees in a traditional resettlement model way, or whether the government is proposing something new.  We hope to have clarity on that”.

“But something that can be done now is to resettle the Afghans who have already been identified as being in need of resettlement and are due to come to the UK”.

Bambos Charalambous, Shadow immigration minister said: “This is a desperate situation and now more than ever we need certainty and clarity from the Home Office regarding the resettlement scheme”.

Government is being urged to be more ambitious in its plan to resettle Afghans. The Refugee Welcome campaign is calling for the government to offer sanctuary to as many people as possible.

In August last, the UNHCR submitted a proposal to the Home Office for it to commit to resettling 5,000 vulnerable refugees who had fled from conflict hit countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan and Eritrea.

However, the Home Office has not accepted this proposal, and it scrapped the numerical target on its global refugee resettlement programme, known as the UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS), in March saying that the numbers would instead be ‘kept under review’.

Mr Padoan went on to say: “Around the world there are hundreds of thousands of refugees who need to be resettled.  We don’t have a commitment from the UK, and we desperately need it to come forward and offer places to those people in need”.

“It makes responding to need very difficult when there is no commitment, because in the UK local authorities need to plan in advance to be able to receive people, and at our end we need to have the staffing capacity to be able to identify people most in need”.

“It is impossible for it to be done on an ad-hoc basis.  It is absolutely necessary for the government to work with the UNHCR, who are identifying the refugees, and also local authorities and charities offering support services in the UK”.

Head of services and safeguarding at Refugee Action, Louise Calvey said: “The announcement to welcome 5,000 Afghan refugees last week is welcome but is inadequate in terms of the numbers of people needing help.  It fails to address the refugees who have been waiting in limbo under the UKRS scheme, which the Home Office have been dragging their heels on for more than a year”.

A Home Office Spokesperson said: “Our immediate priority is to evacuate those in danger in Afghanistan in order to save lives.  While the pandemic has meant that resettlement activity has been disrupted over the last year, no one should be in any doubt of our commitment to build upon our proud history of resettling refugees in need of protection”.