British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday laid out the country’s plans for the resettlement of Afghan refugees, primarily women and children, fleeing the Taliban regime with a new “bespoke” scheme.
The Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme will open with the relocation of 5,000 Afghans at risk due to the current crisis and have the capacity for a total of 20,000 refugees to be relocated over the coming years.
Priority will be given to women and girls, and religious and other minorities deemed most at risk of human rights abuses and dehumanising treatment by the Taliban.
“I can announce today that we are committing to relocating another 5,000 Afghans this year, with a new and bespoke resettlement scheme focusing on the most vulnerable, particularly women and children, and we will keep this under review for future years, with the potential of accommodating up to 20,000 over the long-term,” Johnson told the House of Commons, as he opened a debate for a special session on Afghanistan in Parliament.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, the minister responsible for finalising the details of the scheme, earlier said that it would take some time for it to be fully operational and that the government is “working at speed” to address all obstacles.
“The UK government will always stand by those in the world in their hour of need when fleeing persecution or oppression,” said Patel.
“I want to ensure that as a nation we do everything possible to provide support to the most vulnerable fleeing Afghanistan so they can start a new life in safety in the UK, away from the tyranny and oppression they now face,” said the Indian-origin Cabinet minister.
“Our country has a proud history of offering sanctuary to those in need. We will not abandon people who have been forced to flee their homes and are now living in terror of what might come next. The Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme will save lives,” she said.
The new route is in addition to the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), which offers current or former locally employed staff who are assessed to be under serious threat to life priority relocation to the UK.
The UK Home Office said it is working with international partners to develop a system to identify those most at risk and resettle them. Boris Johnson is expected to discuss this issue with G7 leaders at a virtual meeting in the coming days, as part of the UK’s G7 presidency.
During the special Parliament session on Wednesday, Johnson gave updates on the country’s evacuation of British nationals from the crisis-hit region and also the humanitarian aid being allocated for Afghanistan.
“I can tell the House that we have so far secured the safe return of 306 UK nationals and 2,052 Afghan nationals as part of our resettlement programme, with a further 2,000 Afghan applications completed and many more being processed,” said Johnson.
“We will also support the wider international community in delivering on humanitarian projects in the region by doubling the amount of humanitarian and development assistance that we had previously committed to Afghanistan this year, with new funding, taking this up to GBP 286 million with immediate effect,” he said.
Admitting that the events in Afghanistan unfolded faster than “even the Taliban themselves predicted” since the US troop withdrawal, the UK Prime Minister insisted that the UK as part of the NATO operation had succeeded in its “core mission” for in the region.
“The training camps in the mountain ranges of Afghanistan were destroyed, Al Qaeda plots against this country were foiled because our serving men and women were there, and no successful terrorist attacks against the West have been mounted from Afghan soil for two decades,” he told MPs.
And, with reference to the new Taliban led regime in Afghanistan, he added: “We will judge this regime based on the choices it makes – and by its actions rather than by its words.
“On its attitude to terrorism, to crime and narcotics, as well as humanitarian access and the rights of girls to receive an education. Defending human rights will remain of the highest priority.”
Cross-party MPs participated in the Commons debate with impassioned speeches, expressing concern for the local Afghan families impacted by the crisis unfolding since the Taliban stormed the capital Kabul over the weekend.