Factsheet provides further details about new Afghanistan Citizens' Resettlement Scheme
Home Office factsheet suggests Afghan asylum seekers who enter UK without permission would be criminalised under Nationality and Borders Bill
19 August 2021
A new Home Office factsheet on resettlement routes for Afghan nationals published today on the Home Office media blog has given some further details about the new Afghanistan Citizens' Resettlement Scheme. The scheme was announced by the Government in response to the Taliban taking effective control of Kabul and most of Afghanistan.
Notably, the factsheet suggests that the Nationality and Borders Bill's proposals to criminalise people who knowingly enter the UK without permission to seek asylum would also apply to Afghans fleeing the current crisis.
Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme yesterday, Home Secretary Priti Patel was asked whether Afghan asylum seekers risked being criminalised under the Bill's plans. She responded: "This isn't about being criminalised if they've come over from Afghanistan … They will claim asylum in the way in which people who enter our system are currently claiming asylum."
As we reported on EIN yesterday, over 80 refugee and migrant organisations wrote to the Home Secretary on Tuesday calling on her to abandon the Bill's plans to criminalise or deny full refugee status to irregular asylum seekers.
Today's Home Office factsheet confirms, however, that the Nationality and Borders Bill will make it a criminal offence to knowingly enter the UK without permission, and there is no suggestion of any exception being made for Afghans fleeing the current crisis to seek asylum.
"Under the Nationality and Borders Bill, it will become a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK illegally without permission to be here. Our position is still that people should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach and not risk their lives making dangerous crossings across the Channel. We want to deter people from placing themselves in the hands of evil people smuggling gangs and become trafficked. It is dangerous and unnecessary to attempt to enter the UK in this way," the Home Office factsheet states.
Writing in The Independent today, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas called on the Bill to be scrapped, as it could even criminalise Afghan women fleeing the Taliban.
"[U]nder the terms of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is making its way through parliament, any Afghan woman who flees with her children and arrives in Britain by an 'irregular route', perhaps in a small boat across the Channel, won't be welcomed or protected. She'll be criminalised," Lucas wrote.
"This bill was never fit for purpose and it must now be scrapped," she added.
Today's Home Office factsheet also provides a brief overview of the Afghanistan Citizens' Resettlement Scheme.
The scheme, which is not yet open, will aim to see a total of 20,000 Afghan refugees come to the UK. Priority will be given to "women, girls, children and those most in need, who are likely to face human rights abuses and dehumanising treatment by the Taliban."
In its first year of operation, the scheme is expected to resettle 5,000 Afghans in the UK. The 20,000 total is a "long-term" aim, though the Home Office factsheet confirms that this refers to a five-year period.
Full details of the scheme's operation will be announced in due course.
The Home Office factsheet also confirms that the 20,000 refugees to be taken under the Afghanistan Citizens' Resettlement Scheme will be in addition to the 5,000 Afghans expected to come to the UK this year under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP).
ARAP was launched in April for Afghans who are or who were employed by the UK in Afghanistan.
June's ARAP guidance explains: "Under the … scheme, any current or former Locally Employed Staff assessed to be at serious risk of threat to life will be offered priority relocation to the UK regardless of their employment status, rank or role, or length of time served. Local staff who work or worked in the public eye and who could be at risk as the security situation evolves will be relocated to the UK on a routine basis, and those not eligible to move will be offered other support such as security advice and relocation within Afghanistan."
The Home Office said today that the people of Afghanistan are in need of support and the UK government stands ready to deliver for them.