The UK’s failure to create safe routes for vulnerable Afghans is forcing thousands to make the “gut-wrenching” decision to embark on “perilous, life-threatening journeys” to seek safety in Britain, the Refugee Council has warned.
Four months since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August, causing mass displacement of hundreds of thousands, the government’s Afghan citizens resettlement scheme was not yet up and running, the charity said.
Official data showed asylum applications from Afghanistan to the UK tripled from 435 between April and June to 1,093 between July and September, it added.
The UK government had committed to bringing another 5,000 Afghans to the UK this year and a further 15,000 in future as part of the resettlement scheme, the charity said, calling for its urgent implementation.
It also called for an expansion of the family reunion rules so relatives were not torn apart and the prioritisation of all asylum cases from Afghanistan, with Home Office data showing more than 4,000 Afghans are awaiting a decision on their asylum claims, with nearly 2,500 waiting more than six months.
The charity said it wanted a rethink on the nationality and borders bill so Afghans and other people seeking asylum were not treated differently based on how they reached the UK.
“Last month 27 refugees tragically lost their lives whilst trying to cross the Channel in a small boat to reach the safety of UK shores,” it said. “It was reported that people fleeing Afghanistan were sadly involved in this tragedy.”
As well as providing a safe and legal route for people from Afghanistan, it said the government must provide extra financial support for councils to successfully settle them.
Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “Afghans have been left with a heartbreaking choice. Either they stay in a country where they fear for their lives every day or take the gut-wrenching decision to leave and embark on a dangerous journey in an attempt to reach safety.
“It is critical the government brings forward the scheme they promised and help provide the safe routes and support these people both desperately need and deserve.”
Solomon added that under the nationality and borders bill, “anyone reaching the UK from Afghanistan who does not arrive under a resettlement scheme could be prosecuted and sent to prison for having entered the country unlawfully”.
“The government must rethink its proposals and ensure all Afghans can be given protection irrespective of how they arrived in the UK.”