Afghan refugees: Those who worked for UK can stay permanently

Afghans who worked for the British military and UK government will be able to move to the UK permanently, the Home Office has announced.

Those eligible will be given indefinite leave to remain, rather than the five years’ residency previously offered.

The UK evacuated more than 8,000 people eligible for the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy from 13 August.

But Labour said more needed to be done for the many Afghans whose lives were still at risk after being left behind.

British troops left Afghanistan over the weekend, bringing to an end the UK’s 20-year military involvement in Afghanistan.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he couldn’t give a “definitive” figure for the number of people eligible to come to the UK who remained in Afghanistan.

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Announcing more details of its plan called Operation Warm Welcome, the Home Office said it wanted to ensure Afghans arriving in the UK received help to rebuild their lives.

Ahmed, whose real name is not being used, arrived in the UK from Kabul with his wife and six children in July, and spoke to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about the challenges of not having a permanent address.

“We have been living in hotels for quite a while now in larger groups and it’s becoming tougher and tougher, so it’s time for us to move to a proper house,” he said.

“That is the overarching concern we are having, because we can’t have a bank account.”

He said he was also concerned about his children’s education, adding: “It seems quite difficult managing everything from a hotel room, so I think now is the time for the government to pay serious attention.”

The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) is for former locally employed staff and their families whose lives had been assessed to be under serious threat from the Taliban.

The government said those who had already been relocated in the UK with temporary residency could now upgrade their immigration status, allowing them access to permanent jobs with unrestricted rights to work.

media captionGetting the plane out of Afghanistan was the “happiest moment of my life”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK owed an immense debt to those who worked with the armed forces in Afghanistan.

“I am determined that we give them and their families the support they need to rebuild their lives here in the UK,” he said.

“I know this will be an incredibly daunting time, but I hope they will take heart from the wave of support and generosity already expressed by the British public.”

Victoria Atkins, who has been appointed Afghan Resettlement minister, told BBC Breakfast that Operation Warm Welcome would help people “join our society”.

Speaking about people who, like Ahmed, are in hotels, she said: “We would like to be able to put them into permanent accommodation, but we have to be realistic that the scale of this task is such that we simply don’t have permanent housing available.”

She said a third of councils had given “firm offers” to help refugees, and that the government was “in conversation with many, many more”.

“It’s right that we’re fair to people who are very welcome in our country, who have worked hard for us in Afghanistan, but we also have to do this in a way that is fair to the British people – so we want people to integrate as quickly and as well and as soundly as possible,” she added.

“This is going to take time, I don’t want to pretend that we’re going to be able do this over days or weeks.”

The government has two schemes to resettle Afghans. It is still developing the other – the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme – which will aim to take in up to 20,000 refugees over the coming years, with a focus on women and children, as well as religious and other minorities.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the Home Affairs Committee, said there were still many people who helped the UK’s work in Afghanistan, but who had not been evacuated and were now at serious risk from the Taliban.

“We have a responsibility towards them, yet many are in limbo now because the evacuations have ended but the Resettlement Scheme has not yet started. I have asked the Home Office to confirm that the UK is still trying to help those families.

“There is a particular problem for those whose ARAP cases weren’t processed in time, or who couldn’t get safely to the airport, or who worked on contract on UK projects rather than being directly employed and whose lives are at risk. We must ensure that those who worked with or for the UK government have a route to safety.”

The government’s support as part of Operation Warm Welcome also includes:

£12 million to help enrol children in schools, and provide other support for learning
£3 million to the NHS so families access healthcare and register with a GP
£5 million to support councils across the UK in providing housing support
Funding for up to 300 undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships for Afghans at UK universities. Adults will also be able to access English language courses free of charge
An online portal for members of the public to register offers of support, such as jobs, accommodation and donations of clothing and toys


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