London: The UK government has failed to meet a self-imposed deadline to resettle Afghan refugees in long-term accommodation in Britain.
As of Aug. 30 the government had received over 141,000 applications under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy since its launch in April 2021, of which around 93,000 were unique applications. Nearly 8,000 of these remain unprocessed.
In May the Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told Parliament “we will complete the processing of applications by this summer,” but the Ministry of Defence later scaled down that prediction, saying it would resolve all but the most complex cases by the end of August.
The failure to meet the deadline has been complicated after it emerged numerous Afghans who were told to vacate temporary hotel accommodation this month to find long-term private housing, will have to stay in their rooms or become homeless.
In addition, around 2,000 people who qualify for UK resettlement under ARAP remain in Afghanistan, with a similar number left to fend for themselves in neighboring Pakistan.
John Healey MP, Labour’s shadow defence secretary, said it was “shameful that thousands of ARAP applications are still not processed despite the government promising to clear the backlog by today.
“Not only that, (but) eligible Afghans are now being kicked out of hotels without new housing, while hundreds remain stuck in Pakistan. Ministers must fix the failing ARAP scheme.”
One former Afghan military analyst, who worked alongside British and coalition forces and is awaiting the outcome of his ARAP application, told The Independent: “The MoD told the Parliament they will finish with the ARAP eligibility by August, and August is almost gone and they still haven’t sent me anything.
“I don’t know why my case is so complex or why it’s taking such an unacceptable amount of time. Despite the government’s promise to process applicants, years have passed and there are still simple applications pending.”
Sarah Fenby-Dixon, a consultant with the Refugee Aid Network, a charity, said she was working with 52 Afghans who applied for ARAP visas, and that 20 of these had received no response to their applications from the MoD.
“Many of them have extensive proof of their work alongside British soldiers, have supporting letters from their former British colleagues and evidence of horrific attacks that they have faced from the Taliban because of their work,” she told The Independent.
“People are hiding in cellars or in the mountains; they cannot go out and they cannot work to feed their children. The government’s treatment of them is a shameful betrayal.”
Becky Hart, a lawyer for the Afghan Pro Bono Initiative, which represents several clients still waiting on responses to their ARAP applications, told the paper: “Our clients are living in hell, with many now waiting two years for a response from this government. Many remain torn apart from family, desperate to be together again. We have had clients face torture and death by the Taliban, and they are living in constant fear for their lives while they wait for answers.”
Senior military figures have written to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urging him to take action and ensure promises made to Britain’s Afghan allies are kept.
An MoD spokesperson told The Independent: “We owe a debt of gratitude to those interpreters and other staff eligible under the ARAP scheme who worked for, or with, UK forces in Afghanistan. That’s why we have committed to relocating all eligible Afghans and their families to the UK under the ARAP scheme — a commitment we will honour.
“Our absolute priority is supporting the movement of eligible people out of Afghanistan and to date, we have relocated around 12,200 individuals to the UK under ARAP.”