Following the announcement in the House of Commons today to open the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said:
“Five months on from when the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) was first announced, we are deeply disappointed and dismayed that today’s announcement fails to open the scheme for people at risk in Afghanistan or those who have already fled into neighbouring countries.
While we welcome the fact that the Government announcement confirms they have started granting indefinite leave to remain to Afghans who arrived during the evacuation, we are very concerned the target of supporting up to 20,000 people through this scheme will include Afghans who have already arrived in the UK, meaning that not all of these places will be ‘new’ places, but will instead be allocated to Afghans who arrived in the UK as part of the evacuation process.
The announcement made today only goes as far as confirming that people in neighbouring countries will be able to access the scheme from the Spring and that the pathway for people still in Afghanistan will be limited to a small cohort of people in the first year, leaving thousands of extremely vulnerable people in great danger.
It is also a concern that not everyone who arrives under the scheme will be granted refugee status, which, critically, will mean that they will not have the opportunity to reunite with their family members left behind. This will be heart breaking for so many Afghans.
Resettlement schemes do offer a vital safe route. But in reality there are many more Afghans in desperate need who will not be eligible for the scheme, leaving them desperately unsafe and with no choice but to embark on dangerous journeys exploited by people smugglers to find safety.
Under the Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill they will face criminalisation with our door being cruelly slammed in their face when they reach our shores. The Government must think again and immediately expand eligibility for family reunion, a vital safe route, to enable more family members of refugees in the UK to find safety here and ensure all people, regardless of how they reach our country, are given the chance of a fair hearing on British soil.”