Afghanistan: Charities urge the government to accept more refugees as re-settlement plan criticised

Thousands of Afghans have been desperately trying to escape Afghanistan after the militants seized control of the capital Kabul. Credit: AP

By Yohannes Lowe, Multimedia Producer

Charities have criticised the UK government's long-term plan to resettle up to 20,000 Afghan refugees, as they urged for an increase in the overall numbers brought in under the proposal.

The government has promised that the scheme will allow 20,000 Afghans to settle in the UK over five years, with 5,000 by the end of 2021.

But amid scenes of turmoil that have followed the rapid Taliban takeover of the country, charities have said the UK has a responsibility to take in more refugees, as it was directly involved in the decades long conflict.

Watch ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine's eyewitness report from Kabul airport, where Taliban militants fired gunshots as a warning to Afghans trying to flee

Louise Calvey, head of services at Refugee Action, a charity which works with asylum seekers and refugees, said the UK re-settlement plan could be much more ambitious.

"The 5,000 figure is actually very small and represents a drop in the ocean of the scale of the problem," she told ITV News.

"In June 2019, the Home Office announced that 5,000 refugees would be re-settled in the UK.

"So, this figure just announced by Boris Johnson does not represent an uptick in numbers but simply delivers what we were meant to be doing anyway. I would say the figure should double to at least 10,000 people."

Refugee Action is calling on the UK government to invest in Afghanistan's neighbouring countries- such as Pakistan - to ensure the safety of the many Afghans who have fled their to escape Taliban rule.

Pakistan and Taliban flags flutter while people walk through a security barrier to cross border point between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Credit: AP

Under the resettlement plan, the Home Office said priority will be given to women and girls, and religious and other minorities, who are most at risk of human rights abuses and dehumanising treatment by the Taliban.

The government said it will work with devolved administrations and local councils to ensure Afghans taken in will have the support they need to rebuild their lives.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during the debate on the situation in Afghanistan in the House of Commons. Credit: PA

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister used an emergency parliamentary address to insist the UK was prepared for the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan but told MPs that any ideas Britain could have prevented it are "an illusion".

He said a plan to remove British nationals from Afghanistan had been in place for two weeks, long before the Taliban captured Kabul airport.

But critics have slammed the government's response as sluggish, considering the humanitarian crisis which is now engulfing the conflict-ridden country.

While welcoming the resettlement announcement as a positive first step, refugee groups are now calling for the expansion on the eligibility for family reunion, which would enable those who have relatives in the UK to travel safely to join their loved ones.

The Home Office is also under pressure to immediately halt any deportations to Afghanistan, with an unknown number of Afghan migrants in Britain living in fear of removal after their asylum applications were refused.

Enver Solomon, CEO at the Refugee Council, said: "The Home Office must suspend any returns of people to Afghanistan, and also quickly decide all asylum claims from Afghans who have arrived in the UK independently, including reviews of those who have previously been refused, as the country is clearly not safe for them right now."

Charities have pointed to the UK's long history of accepting refugees fleeing foreign conflicts as an impetus to accept more Afghan civilians.

  • 1939: In order to escape the advancing Nazi army, nearly 100,000 refugees from Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway came to the UK. Most returned in 1945.

  • 1945-1960: More than 50,000 refugees came to the UK from the Soviet Union, Romania and Czechoslovakia, with many of them having lived in refugee camps at the end of WW2. Others needed sanctuary as the new communist governments in Eastern Europe considered them dangerous political opponents.

  • 1972: This was the year Uganda's military dictator Idi Amin expelled 80,000 Ugandan Asians, ordering them to leave the country within 90 days after denouncing them as "bloodsuckers". There were many objections to their arrival in the UK, with the Conservative government fearing racial tensions would be re-ignited. But in what eventually became to be viewed as a success story for British immigration, Britain admitted 28,000 Asians, many of whom settled in Wembley in Middlesex, and Leicester in the Midlands.

  • 1973-1979: Around 3,000 Chileans- including many academics and working-class people sponsored by trade unions- fleeing the violence of General Pinochet’s regime were allowed to enter the UK.

  • 1975-1992: Roughly 24,000 Vietnamese refugees, who would be become known as "boat people", entered the UK under a resettlement programme. This included South Vietnamese former government officials escaping from the communists, as well as ethnically Chinese people who fled Vietnam when they became a target for persecution after China invaded in 1979.

  • 1992-1996: Around 2,500 Bosnians who fled the brutal war in the former Yugoslavia were permitted temporary protection status by the British government under a small quota resettlement programme. Germany, by contrast, accepted more than 300,000. The Bosnian refugees- predominately Muslim Bosniacs- started arriving in Britain in 1992 as the Balkans degenerated into inter-ethnic genocide which would end up claiming 250,000 lives.

  • 2014: In March 2014, the first Syrian refugees began to arrive in the UK under the government's scheme to take in some of the most vulnerable victims of the conflict. By June 2019, 17,051 Syrian refugees had come to the UK through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme.