New Resettlement Scheme for Afghans announced by UK

As the UK government announces plans of a new resettlement scheme for Afghans, refugee and migrant groups say that Government must abandon plans to criminalise asylum seekers.

The UK Government announced this new refugee resettlement scheme for Afghans who are most in need of safety following the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan. The scheme is to allow up to 20,000 Afghans to settle in the UK over the coming years, with 5,000 planned to arrive in the first year.

Priti Patel, Home Secretary, said that the new scheme will save lives, “The UK Government will always stand by those in the world in their hour of need when fleeing persecution or oppression.  Our country has a proud history of offering sanctuary to those in need.  We will not abandon people who have been forced to flee their homes and are now living in fear of what may come next”.

The Home Office recently announced that over 3,300 Afghan nationals who supported British efforts and armed forces have been resettled in the UK since 2013.  These include many interpreters, other staff and their family members, 2,000 have been resettled since June this year.

Over 80 refugee and migrant organisations in a campaign led by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) wrote to Priti Patel asking her to act immediately to offer a generous and compassionate response to the Afghan crisis.

With the lives and rights of millions of Afghans now at risk, the Home Secretary is urged to abandon dangerous plans which were set out in the Nationality and Borders Bill to criminalise or deny full refugee status to those who come to the UK without permission to seek asylum.

The refugee and migrant organisations consider that a resettlement only approach to refugee protection cannot work, as it is not feasible for refugees to wait for undefined periods of time in unsafe situations in the hope of resettlement in the context of what has been seen.  Regulated travel is not an option for many, people need to flee urgently and by any means necessary.  These should not be penalised.  All refugees reaching the UK should have their claims assessed based on need and not on their method of escape.

The Home Secretary is asked to publish guidance on Afghanistan that reflects the need for international protection for all at risk.  Women and girls, ethnic minorities, journalists and those seen as supporting an international organisation or the Afghan Government are in immediate danger.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released important new information, calling on all countries to allow people fleeing Afghanistan access to their territories, and it calls on all countries to suspend the forced returns of Afghan nationals, including failed asylum seekers.

The position paper states: “UNHCR notes the imperative to ensure that the right to seek asylum is not compromised, that borders are kept open and that people in need of international protection are not consigned to areas inside their country of origin that could potentially be dangerous.  In this context, it is important to bear in mind that states have obligations, including under customary international law, to preserve cross-border access for civilians fleeing conflict and not to return refugees forcibly”.

UNHCR says the bar on forcible return serves as a minimum standard which needs to remain in place until conditions in Afghanistan improve enough to permit a safe and dignified return of those determined not to be in need of international protection.