The UK government’s new bill that puts asylum seekers at risk of removal has garnered criticism from many quarters including the Afghan refugees and prominent human rights groups.
The Afghan refugees have called on the Home Office to reconsider the recently tabled bill which proposes to change UK immigration rules and implement strict penalties on asylum seekers who arrive in Britain through unauthorised routes. The bill also authorises the immigration officers to engage in practices like pushback and offshore processing.
These new UK immigration rules are distressing the refugees who are already in the UK. Some of them have loved ones who are still stuck under the Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
According to the refugees, the new policy only makes it more difficult for people to flee the Taliban and safely migrate abroad. UNHCR has also strongly condemned the proposals calling them ‘a profound threat’ to the international refugee protection system.
Earlier this year in August, when Kabul fell to the Taliban, the UK government announced that it would be supporting and accommodating Afghans in need.
But with there being little progress in the last two months, some are wondering whether the UK government is doing enough?
Updates on Government Programmes
So far, the UK Government has announced two support programmes to rehabilitate refugees from Afghanistan.
Out of the 10,000 Afghans expected to arrive in the UK this year, half were to be accommodated under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) and the other half under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP).
Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme
On 17 August, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme. He also informed the press that the UK would be accommodating 5000 Afghans under ACRS the first year and up to 20,000 refugees in the long run.
These promises have not materialised. While the resettlement scheme was announced about two months ago, it is yet to open.
ACRS was announced with the specific aim of relocating and rehousing Afghan women, activists, children, and other minority groups (ethnic, religious, or LGBTQ+) vulnerable to Taliban persecution.
The UK Government also promised that those resettled under ACRS would get indefinite leave to remain in the UK and would be able to apply for British citizenship after five years of being here.
Pressure has been mounting on the government to issue a deadline for the opening of ACRS.
Many Afghans including former officials and activists have been demanding that the UK government announce when the scheme would take effect. Time is of the essence here. “The more we wait, the more in danger we are,” a man hiding in Afghanistan told the BBC.
The Home Office has also been criticised by the MPs for “very slow” progress in implementing ACRS. Commenting on the issue, Home Office minister Victoria Atkins dismissed the rumours that the scheme was being paused. She said: “While we appreciate the need to act quickly it is also important that we do this properly and ensure any scheme meets the needs of those it is being set up to support.”
Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy
The Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy was launched at the beginning of April to relocate professionals, interpreters, and other personnel who worked for the UK government in Afghanistan.
ARAP is the only scheme that is currently operational and helping Afghani citizens seek asylum in the UK. The policy prioritises the relocation of any present or formerly employed personnel whose life is assessed to be in danger under the Taliban rule.
Reportedly, the UK has relocated 2000 Afghan ex-officials and their families under ARAP since late June this year.
There has also been word from the local councils that the UK government is not doing much to support the Afghan refugees already present in the country either.
The councils were entrusted with the responsibility of assisting hundreds of Afghan immigrants. The Home Office had pledged £28 per person per day to the councils to support the asylum-seekers with their essential needs.
Reportedly, the funding is yet to be disbursed. “Despite promises from the Home Office, councils are yet to receive any funding to cover the cost of clothing, medical supplies or the hiring of support staff to help evacuees with basic needs,” Georgia Gould, the chair of London Councils, told the press.
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