How is UK planning to help resettle Afghan refugees?

Ministers are expected to announce a ‘bespoke’ scheme similar to that put in place for Syrians in 2014

Ministers have unveiled plans for a new settlement scheme in the UK for Afghan nationals following the Taliban takeover of the country. Similar to a scheme put in place for Syrians in 2014 amid the country’s civil war, this would be in addition to existing structures to assist some Afghan nationals.

What has been announced?

The scheme will allow 20,000 Afghans to settle in the UK over five years, with 5,000 by the end of 2021. Women, children and religious minorities will be prioritised. The first group of people were expected to arrive from Kabul on Tuesday night. It will mark a significant expansion of asylum to the UK from Afghanistan, although the total number is the same as offered for Syria, a country with half the total population and which has not seen a UK presence for the last 20 years.

How will the scheme work?

Because Kabul’s airport will be operational for an unknown amount of time, with Taliban forces well established in the capital and US military support due to finish this month, unless an agreement can be reached with the Taliban many of those who come are likely to have already fled to surrounding countries, such as Pakistan. Even with the RAF hoping to be able to fly up to 1,000 a day, it is simply not known how long the airport will remain open.

Who has been pushing for the UK to take Afghan nationals?

There have been cross-party calls for this, including from Damian Green, the Conservative MP and former cabinet minister, as well as the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, and the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Speaking on Tuesday, the shadow Foreign Office minister Stephen Kinnock called for “a bold and ambitious and generous offer” on resettlement.

What else is the UK government doing?

Ministers are focused on trying to assist UK nationals and joint UK-Afghan nationals in leaving the country, with Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, saying officials had been contacted by up to 2,000 eligible people. This process was hampered by chaotic scenes at Kabul’s airport on Sunday, with thousands of people massing on runways. Evacuation flights have resumed after overseas troops cleared the airport.

What about Afghans who have worked with UK forces?

The UK already has a scheme in place called Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, or Arap, set up in December last year ahead of the removal of UK troops. This is intended to allow Afghan nationals who have worked with UK troops, for example as translators, or with other UK bodies, to be offered relocation to the UK if they are viewed as being at serious risk if they remain in Afghanistan. Raab said that in the last week, 289 people had left Afghanistan under the scheme, but declined to say how many could qualify. He also warned some eligible people may be left behind if the airport does not remain secure.

Are there other schemes?

In September, 35 Afghan students were due to take up places at British universities under the Chevening scholarships system. But the Foreign Office said these were being deferred for a year because the UK embassy in Kabul could no longer administer their visas. However, Boris Johnson later said the government would try to make sure they were admitted.


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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