Afghanistan: How will the resettlement scheme work as refugees flee amid the Taliban takeover?

20,000 Afghan refugees will be able to settle in the UK over a five-year period. Credit: AP

The government has announced a resettlement scheme to help refugees fleeing Afghanistan, promising to take up 20,000 people who are forced to leave their homes in the face of threats and persecution from the Taliban.

The 20,000 refugees will come to the UK over a five-year period, with 5,000 people in the first 12 months.

The Afghans will be offered the chance to set up life in the UK permanently.

Taliban fighters patrol in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan. Credit: AP

The Home Office has claimed it will be “one of the most generous” resettlement schemes in the UK’s history but questions remain over how it will work and whether it will be enough to help those in immediate need.

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 Home Office said.

Afghan citizens pack inside a U.S. Air military plane as they are transported from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan, Sunday Credit: AP

How will it work in practice?

It is still unclear how the scheme will actually work and detail provided by the Home Office so far is limited.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – which facilitates resettlement – welcomed the scheme but said it is awaiting further details, indicating plans are still being developed and suggesting it could be some time before it is in operation.

It is thought it will be modelled on the previous Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), which took place over a seven-year period.

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

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaking during the debate on the situation in Afghanistan in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday Credit: PA

The UK is also said to be trying to find ways with other countries to “develop a system to identify those most at risk and resettle them, ensuring help goes to those that need it”.

The prime minister is expected to discuss this with G7 leaders in a meeting in the coming days.

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

A Home Office spokesperson said the “complex picture on the ground means there will be significant challenges delivering the scheme, but the government is working at speed to address these obstacles”.

Nevertheless, the government has insisted the process will not compromise national security and anyone being processed through the scheme will still need to pass strict checks.

Is it enough?

The Labour Party have criticised the scope of the government's resettlement scheme for Afghan refugees. MPs returned from their summer break for an emergency sitting in the Commons on Wednesday.

Addressing fellow MPs, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the recent events in Afghanistan had brought "shame [on] the West".

"It's been a disastrous week, an unfolding tragedy" in Afghanistan, Sir Keir said, adding: "The desperate situation requires leadership and for the prime minister to snap out of his complacency."

He continued: "The scale of the refugee crisis requires an international response but we must lead it, and lead with a resettlement programme that meets the scale of the challenge.

"The scheme must be generous and welcoming.

"If it is not, we know the consequences, we know the consequences now: violent reprisals in Afghanistan, people tragically fleeing into the arms of human traffickers - we know this is what will happen - more people risking and losing their lives on unsafe journeys including across the English Channel.

"We cannot betray our friends, we must lead."

Sir Keir Starmer called the scheme "vague" and said numbers in it had been "plucked out of the air".

Dozens of demonstrators also gathered at Parliament Square on Wednesday evening to protest over how the Government has handled supporting citizens in Afghanistan.

The protesters, many of who are former translators for the British Army, held banners and signs up in front of Parliament on Wednesday as MPs returned to the House of Commons after it was recalled.

Did the Syrian resettlement scheme work?

Charities and officials alike generally regard the Syrian resettlement scheme a success.

A total of 20,080 Syrian refugees have set up life in the UK since 2015 as a result, according to figures published earlier this year.

Those who were escaping conflict in Syria were assisted by the government as part of its work with the UNHCR to identify people, including women and children, at risk and victims of torture.

They were granted refugee status with full rights to live and work, and provided with housing and support, and help to integrate into their new communities.

What other help is being provided?

There is said to be confusion among refugee organisations over whether the government’s proposals will assist those trapped in Afghanistan in immediate need.

The plan focuses on resettlement which, if applied in the same way as previous schemes, requires those legally identified as refugees to have already crossed a border (for example to a nearby country like Pakistan) in order to be processed.

Some are asking what plans there are to evacuate and relocate Afghan citizens who are stuck in the country and trying to escape.

This could involve Home Office and Ministry of Defence officials processing exit visas in similar efforts to those currently being made to get British nationals to safety.

The UNHCR has also called for the rights of Afghans who make their way “spontaneously” to the UK to claim asylum to be preserved, and urged the government not to abandon its “legal or moral responsibility” to allow people to seek safety on its shores if arriving by means other than the resettlement scheme.

The scheme is in addition to the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), which offers priority relocation to the UK for current or former locally employed staff who are assessed to be under serious threat to life.

Some 5,000 former Afghan staff and their family members are expected to be relocated to the UK by the end of this year under ARAP.

Since 2013, 3,300 have been resettled in the UK in this manner.

More than 25,000 refugees, around half of them children, have been resettled in the UK over the past six years under various government-funded schemes, the Home Office said.

What if the situation gets worse and more help is needed?

The government said it will keep the resettlement under review, with Home Secretary Priti Patel suggesting the programme could be expanded if needed and hinting that the number admitted in the first year could double.