UK treatment of Afghan refugees ‘continues to be source of shame’

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: WPA/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

Two RAF flights carrying as many as 500 Afghans who worked with British forces and their relatives are landing in the UK each month from Pakistan but there is deep frustration within the Ministry of Defence about how the rest of government is struggling to accommodate arrivals.

It comes as the Taliban and western allies mark the first anniversary of Nato’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Related: Taliban rule in Afghanistan, one year on: ‘Women don’t want to stay here’ – photo essay

Gen Sir John McColl, who served in Afghanistan as the first head of Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan told BBC Radio 4’s World at One that the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, and other ministers should “hang their heads in shame”.

Britain’s original evacuation of Afghans was “random” and at times dogs had been prioritised over people, he said, adding: “The system was broken when we withdrew from Kabul last year and it remains broken. It was a source of shame then and it continues to be a source of shame.”

About 6,200 people – including some 1,200 “principals” who worked for the UK, and typically four to five members of their families – are currently understood to be eligible for relocation under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap), one of two government programmes.

The figure includes some who are still in Afghanistan and others who have made it out, more often than not to Pakistan, though Afghans have also attempted to cross the border into Iran, where the strained relationship between Britain and the regime in Tehran complicates the ability to help people.

The Arap scheme has brought more than 10,100 eligible Afghans to the UK while another, the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme (ACRS), will allow up to 20,000 to settle in Britain.

However, there has been strong criticism that the UK has effectively abandoned many Afghans to persecution and execution under the Taliban for the crime of having worked with British forces and officials.

In a parliamentary briefing earlier this month, nine expert groups on Afghanistan criticised the British government’s resettlement schemes as “unjustifiably restrictive”. They said it was deeply concerning that the government was currently not offering a safe route for many Afghan women and girls or to oppressed minority groups.

Sources at the MoD said on Monday that about 1,050 people who were brought out of Afghanistan under Arap were currently in hotels in Pakistan, awaiting processing and transportation to the UK or another destination.

But there is frustration with other parts of government and beyond with the fact that many Afghans who are brought to the UK end up, as one highly placed source put it, “stuck in hotels”.

The MoD sources accused other parts of Whitehall of “struggling” to know what to do, and failing to put adequate plans in place.

On the first anniversary of the fall of Kabul, the UK government is still providing hotel accommodation to 9,500 Afghans who sought refuge in the UK, with only 7,000 having been rehoused.

But thousands of Afghan refugees have been told by the Home Office to look for new accommodation on Rightmove or Zoopla.

A Home Office spokesperson said the UK would welcome up to 20,000 people in need through the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme.

“Already we are proud this country has provided homes for more than 7,000 Afghan evacuees, but there is a shortage of local housing accommodation for all,” she added.

“While hotels do not provide a long-term solution, they do offer safe, secure and clean accommodation. We will continue to bring down the number of people in bridging hotels, moving people into more sustainable accommodation as quickly as possible.”

The Home Office has said local authorities are given £20,520 a person over a three-year period to support the resettlement of relocated Afghan families and have flexibility to use the funding in different ways.