UK policy forcing Afghan refugees to seek riskier routes

Refugee groups in the UK have criticized the government’s approach to refugees from Afghanistan, arguing that most refugees remain unsupported, leaving them with no choice but to seek dangerous routes out of the country.

With the UK’s withdrawal from Afghanistan along with the US and other NATO allies in early August, the government announced a “warm welcome to the operation,” targeting Afghans who had been evacuated or relocated as part of the efforts. to protect those who worked with the British government. . This included granting them and their families permanent residence.

But refugee rights groups worry that the vast majority of Afghan refugees face cold boos, starting with those who qualify for the safe path to family reunification in the UK, but are currently unable to apply due to at the closure of the British embassy in Kabul. .

“There are clearly practical and administrative problems with family reunification because there is no administration [in Afghanistan] to process these applications,” Christopher Desira, director of the UK-based immigration law firm Seravos, told TRT World.

A political statement released this week details the government’s plans to resettle and resettle Afghans under two schemes. It includes plans to relocate an additional 5,000 people by the end of the year who worked with the UK under the Afghan Assistance and Resettlement Policy (ARAP), which was launched in April. He also announced funding from local councils to resettle 20,000 Afghans in the next few years, including 5,000 in the first year.

“We will not abandon people who have been forced to flee their homes and are now living in terror of what could happen next,” Interior Secretary Priti Patel said when the resettlement plan, which has not yet entered into vigor, was first announced in August.

Afghans left out of the schemes will still be subject to existing family and economic immigration rules. These requirements include a minimum income of £ 18,600 ($ 25,600) per year for any British citizen or permanent resident who wishes to bring a spouse to the UK, with each child being raised.

In addition, the UK requires individuals applying for family reunification to provide biometrics. While the statement acknowledged that the closure of the British embassy in Kabul made this impossible, it simply discouraged people from filing and paying the application fee “at this time as it will not be taken into account until biometrics is available”.

“The Home Office could have decided to make a decision in principle on the status of individuals and then allow biometrics to be collected in a third country,” Beth Gardiner Smith, president of the refugee charity Safe Passage, wrote on Twitter. “Instead, they have closed this safe route when Afghans need it most because they cannot show a shred of resilience,” he said, adding that “hundreds” of UK citizens or permanent residents have contacted his organization to bring staff. Their families are outside of Afghanistan.

“We have talked to people who say that their relatives will try to move to neighboring countries to see if they can get out of there,” said Desira, “obviously this poses problems for those families, the risk of traveling to those countries and being in those countries illegally in those countries “”.

Large scale displacement

Even before the events that led to the Taliban taking control of the country in August, Afghanistan was facing a mass exodus exacerbated by drought and food shortages. More than 3.5 million people have been internally displaced by the conflict, including some 630,000 since the beginning of the year.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has registered 2.6 million Afghan refugees worldwide, of which 2.2 million are in neighboring Iran and Pakistan.

“At the moment, it is not clear how many refugees will try to leave Afghanistan,” Matthew Saltmarsh, a UK spokesman for the agency, told TRT World.

“We have noticed that there has been some movement towards the border recently, but the number of people who have contacted UNHCR in neighboring countries has been limited in recent weeks,” he added. The agency has yet to receive details of how the government’s resettlement plan will work once it is operational, some set by the agency and others according to the government’s own criteria.

“These plans alone will not be sufficient to provide protection for Afghans arriving in the UK,” said Enver Solomon, executive director of Refugee Council Asylum Support, in response to the policy statement. “Through no fault of their own, many Afghans will have no choice but to embark on dangerous journeys in search of safety.”

New bill could criminalise Afghans entering ‘illegally’

Meanwhile, the bill currently in Parliament could put anyone who enters the UK via an illegal route to have their asylum claim deemed inadmissible and risk being imprisoned for up to four years.

“The warm welcome that this government wants to give Afghans about the new schemes is in stark contrast to the proposals of the new ‘Borders Law’ that will cruelly close our door to those who have had to undertake dangerous trips by land to reach Suleiman,” he said. Suleiman.

UNHCR has also criticized the two-tier system that could end up punishing the vast majority of refugees, who do not have access to legal channels, in contravention of international law.

“I find it ironic, to be frank, that the very people that we felt were most affected when we saw them hanging from airplanes in Kabul, or those that we are discussing now about how they should be eliminated … if they stood up and” He made them here, “said Rossella Bagliucci Laure, UNHCR UK Representative. Members of the United States Parliament this week at a meeting of the Select Committee on Home Affairs.