LONDON: The failure of two UK schemes to resettle refugees from Afghanistan has forced many to take dangerous routes to try to reach safety, according to a new report.
The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme were meant to help tens of thousands of people reach the UK after Afghanistan was taken over by the Taliban a year ago.
But a briefing to Parliament featuring remarks from nine human rights groups described both as “unjustifiably restrictive,” which, it added, had left many stranded and led to an increase in people trying to enter Britain illegally.
The briefing, put together by groups including Human Rights Watch, said that interpreters and teachers were among those betrayed by the failure of the schemes.
“A year since the UK’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the (ARAP) scheme is still not functioning properly and is marred by ongoing substantive and procedural problems,” the briefing said.
Adam Smith International had 250 staff in Afghanistan, helping implement aid projects, who applied through the ARAP scheme to relocate to the UK. Just 24 have received clearance — something the group’s director, Daniel Pimlott, said was “shameful.”
A group of 109 teachers who worked for the British Council in Afghanistan is still trapped in the country, despite being granted permission to apply for resettlement, with no way of escaping.
Joseph Seaton, former English manager and deputy director of the British Council Afghanistan, said: “The failure of the British Council and UK government to ensure the safety of their teachers has massively tarnished its great work in (the) country.”
One of the teachers, Mahmoud, said he had been sent death threats by the Taliban even before the takeover, adding: “I have moved 11 times. The Taliban whipped my then eight-year-old daughter to get her to say where I was.”
The briefing also highlighted the plight of many Afghans who had successfully made it to the UK but were now left in states of limbo, with around 10,500 currently being put up in hotels across the country, and many suffering serious mental health issues as a result.
One told the Observer newspaper: “We have been completely forgotten about.
“Having worked for many years for the British government in Afghanistan, I’m heartbroken and ashamed (that) their flagship resettlement policies have failed so badly.
“One year on, we have received no communications from the government on what happens next, and remain in a hotel. I often ask myself whether I would have been better off remaining in Afghanistan, and facing my destiny at the hands of the Taliban.”
A spokesperson for the UK Home Office told the Observer: “The UK has a proud history of providing protection to those who need it and, through the new ACRS, up to 20,000 people in need will be welcomed to the UK.
The British Council said in a statement: “We know our former colleagues are living in increasingly desperate circumstances. We are incredibly concerned for them and for their families’ welfare and we continue to be in direct touch with them on a regular basis.
“The Afghanistan relocation schemes are run by the UK government. We have been pushing for progress with senior contacts within the UK government to ensure the earliest consideration of our former contractors’ relocation applications.”