London’s U-turn on Afghan resettlements will ‘cost lives,’ former envoy warns

London’s U-turn on Afghan resettlements will ‘cost lives,’ former envoy warns
Afghan refugee children in a hotel carpark near Heathrow Airport, London. (Twitter Photo)
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Updated 15 December 2021

London’s U-turn on Afghan resettlements will ‘cost lives,’ former envoy warns

London’s U-turn on Afghan resettlements will ‘cost lives,’ former envoy warns
  • Scheme to provide safe haven for fleeing Afghans still not operational four months after fall of Kabul
  • Government accused of ‘slamming the door’ on Afghan people who worked with NATO

LONDON: The decision by the British government to narrow the eligibility criteria for Afghans fleeing Taliban rule will “cost lives,” according to the former British ambassador to Afghanistan.

Changes announced Tuesday mean the scheme will now be limited to those who worked for or with the UK and can prove they are at a certain level of risk in Afghanistan.

Those who can prove they made a “substantive and positive contribution” toward the achievement of the UK’s military or national security objectives in the country will also remain eligible.

But the changes mean that those who worked with Britain to “promote human rights, good governance and democracy” with “no route to safety in the UK” will no longer be eligible for resettlement.

Sir Nick Kay, who served as UK ambassador to Afghanistan from 2017 to 2019, told The Independent: “For these brave people, the ACRS (Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme) needs to open now. Delays cost Afghan lives, cause extreme distress and undermine the UK government’s claim to be offering safe passage and a warm welcome to those we abandoned in August.”

Despite nearly four months passing since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, the ACRS is not yet up and running, leaving only the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy to help Afghans escape.

Victoria Atkins, the UK’s minister for Afghan resettlement, said: “The ACRS will soon open and is one of the most generous schemes in our country’s history. It will give up to 20,000 people at risk a new life in the UK. We will honor commitments made to individuals and groups.”

But rights campaigners have condemned the changes made to the resettlement criteria, particularly in light of previous comments by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in which he promised to provide a “warm welcome” to Afghans in the UK.

Minnie Rahman, interim chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said the UK’s narrowing of the ARAP and its “shameful failure” to open the Afghan resettlement scheme meant that Afghans with links to the UK were now “stuck between a frying pan and a fire.”

She told The Independent: “Four months ago this government promised Afghans a ‘warm welcome’ but again and again we see them slam the doors shut on the Afghan people — even those who risked their lives working alongside us.”

She added that the changes would leave people with the “impossible choice” of staying in Afghanistan and “risking death” or making their own treacherous journeys to Britain.