Boris Johnson’s government must start its new resettlement scheme for people in Afghanistan “immediately” to save lives at risk from the Taliban, senior MPs have warned.
Leading Conservative and Labour figures have urged ministers to use the programme for people trying to flee the country, after the prime minister said 5,000 Afghans would be given a home in the UK in the year ahead.
Labour’s Yvette Cooper, chair of the home affairs committee, and the Tory Party’s Tobias Ellwood, chair of the defence select committee, said it should be implemented on “an interim basis in order to help people at risk right now”.
In a letter to the home secretary Priti Patel, Ms Cooper and Mr Ellwood said the Home Office should use the support network established by Britain’s local authorities for the recent Syrian resettlement scheme to start welcoming refugees.
Organisations involved in refugee resettlement say there is still “confusion” in the way the scheme has been presented because the process has typically taken place only once people have fled their country of origin.
The Law Society of England and Wales said clarification is needed on the kind of clearance needed for people at risk under Taliban rule – urging the Home Office to be flexible so people can come directly from Afghanistan.
“A growing number of solicitors are being contacted about people whose lives are in danger in Afghanistan and who have no viable or safe way to apply for or exercise potential rights to travel to the UK,” said the society’s president Stephanie Boyce.
“Anyone who wants to apply for entry to the UK from Afghanistan has to get to Pakistan or India to provide biometrics before their application will be considered. This creates a near impenetrable barrier to seeking sanctuary and urgently needs to be rethought.”
The select committee chiefs said Ms Patel should help make sure “people who are at immediate risk” inside Afghanistan should be able to access the resettlement scheme.
Councils from across the UK have come forward to say they will welcome these refugees into their local communities – disputing claims from the home secretary that it would not be possible to resettle larger numbers.
Ms Patel said earlier this week that the UK could not accommodate its long-term target of 20,000 Afghan refugees “all in one go” after criticism of the limited short-term commitment of 5,000 refugees.
The senior MPs also urged the government to broaden the scope of the Afghan relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) – the ongoing effort to relocate interpreters and others who helped the British mission in Afghanistan – saying it was still “too narrow”.
They called on Ms Patel to provide more resources to support the issuing of visas so those trying to leave Afghanistan do not face administrative delays which would be “unforgivable at this dangerous time”.
Ms Cooper and Mr Ellwood said the Home Office should follow the US example and broaden the scheme to include people who have worked with UK-based charities and UK-funded projects.
“Many UK agencies and organisations have staff and contract workers who were visibly associated with the UK and who are being pursued into hiding by Taliban forces,” they wrote. “We have a responsibility towards them.”
Refugee charities have said the short-term commitment to resettle 5,000 Afghan citizens was “too little” to meet the scale of the immediate crisis. Safe Passage International said the government should try to resettle at least 20,000 in the months ahead.
The Independent has backed calls from MPs and charities for Downing Street to expand its plan to resettle Afghans at risk of losing their lives in the Taliban takeover.
Our Refugees Welcome campaign is calling for the government to offer sanctuary to as many Afghans as possible, and for local authorities and charities devoted to their welfare to be given the strongest of support.