LONDON: UK Home Secretary Priti Patel is facing new pressure from members of her own party over the failure of an Afghan resettlement program, which has not opened more than three months after being launched.
It comes as debate rages in Britain over the deaths of 27 migrants in the English Channel earlier this week.
Several Conservative MPs privately demanded that Patel take action on the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, The Guardian reported.
They said that UK government inaction was placing Afghans at “deadly risk” and leaving vulnerable targets in the country at the mercy of the Taliban.
Damian Green, the former immigration minister, has called for a new approach to migration that is “realistic and compassionate.”
In an opinion piece, he criticized the “blame game” between the UK and France over deaths at sea, and called on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron to work together to solve the crisis.
He said: “Now is not the time for displays of wounded amour propre in either language. Careless talk costs lives.”
Afghans are well represented in the body of migrants on the French coast who are attempting to travel to the UK. Government critics in the UK have argued that opening a legal route to entry would help avoid deaths at sea.
Rory Stewart, the former international development secretary, said the problems associated with the Afghan resettlement scheme were “surmountable,” but that the opportunity for helping vulnerable people was slipping away.
“We have a narrow window to get people out. At the moment, very strangely, the Taliban is prepared to permit people out. That won’t be true forever. It’s very likely at some point they’ll start taking more drastic measures.
“We have a deep moral obligation. These people, who are profoundly vulnerable, were told they were going to be helped. It’s just astonishing that they haven’t done so. This sort of program, actually, is the kind of thing that is the good alternative to these dangerous, unplanned routes. It moves people safely, but it’s also the way of ensuring that the most vulnerable are prioritized.”
An opinion poll found that just 18 percent of voters thought Patel was handling the migrant crisis effectively. In the opposite camp, 62 percent believed she was handling it “badly” or “very badly.”
Caroline Nokes, the former Conservative immigration minister, said: “This scheme needs to be up and running. Afghans here with family still in Afghanistan were given hope when the scheme was announced but are desperately worried that time is running out to get their family members to safety.”
Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, said: “We’re all supportive of stopping illegal immigration, but these other routes are the key to getting things properly done. This needs to be open and resolved, particularly because of Afghanistan and obligations to the people there. This week illustrates that.”
The Law Society has warned that lawyers and judges who worked to prosecute Taliban members over the past decade “are all targets while still in Afghanistan.”
Marina Brilman,the society’s international human rights adviser, said the scheme might not be ready by the end of the year.
She added: “Most judges, prosecutors and lawyers who helped to consolidate the rule of law in Afghanistan are Afghan nationals. They never made it on to the UK government’s evacuation list. When the last UK flight left Kabul airport, they were left stranded. Especially women.
“They send us desperate pleas for help and pass on handwritten death threats saying they and their families will be killed. They constantly move houses, and even provinces, to escape the violence. Door-to-door house searches by the Taliban continue, as do extrajudicial killings and public beatings. Of course, establishing this scheme is a huge undertaking.
“But it should not have to take three and a half months to even open it for applications. It raises the question how much of a priority this is for the UK government.”
However, a government spokesperson defended the scheme’s rollout.
“We undertook the UK’s biggest and fastest emergency evacuation in recent history, helping more than 15,000 people to safety from Afghanistan, who we are continuing to support.
“The ACRS is one of the most generous schemes in our country’s history and will give up to 20,000 further people at risk a new life in the UK. We continue to work at pace to open the scheme amid a complex and changing picture, working across government and with partners such as the UNHCR to design the scheme.”