We all have seen the news coverage of desperate Afghan civilians clinging to a military aircraft taking off from the airport at Kabul. The fear that must besiege such desperation is unimaginable. The fear of living under Taliban rule must be even worse.
So it’s with great anticipation and relief that we read the UK government is offering a new resettlement scheme over and above the current scheme already in place since 1 April 2021 for those who worked with the British Armed Forces in the past. But how will that work and what help is currently available?
If the Applicants meet the requirements of some of the British Immigration rules, this may be a possibility. VFS, the company who act as agents for UK Visas and immigration still advertise as being open in Kabul accepting visa applications, but the reality may of course be far from what is advertised. At the best of times, getting an appointment to submit a visa application in Kabul is difficult, so one can only dread the difficulties in obtaining one now. Then there are of course the very strict visa requirements imposed by UKVI, the specified documents applicants must provide, and in a country where there is no Government and many civilians do not have passports, the task becomes even more impossible.
In recent days we have had enquiries from whole families trying to flee and wanting to know what application they can make. Visa fees are very high and in many cases unaffordable in particular if consisting of a large family. Many types of applications will also take a minimum of 12 weeks for a decision, possibly longer, but 12 weeks under Taliban rule is a very long time and some may not have 12 weeks grace.
Then there is the UK’s Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy introduced from 1 April 2021, which offers relocation or other assistance to current and former Locally Employed Staff in Afghanistan such as interpreters who assisted the British Armed Forces during the war in Afghanistan and to reflect the changing situation in Afghanistan. However people’s status and their employment with the Armed Forces, could take a considerable amount of time to be verified and approved. The first part of the process is to complete an online application and if approved as a person in need of relocation, will then need to do a second application for leave to enter in accordance with the Immigration rules, but submitting an application at VFS in Kabul (see point 1 above). They will be able to apply for their immediate family too.
The Home Office announced on 18 Aug 2021 that they the UK is committed to providing protection for vulnerable people fleeing Afghanistan. The Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme will welcome up to 5,000 vulnerable Afghans to the UK, who have been forced to flee the country, in its first year, with up to a total of 20,000 in the long-term. However, the scheme is not yet open and the website simply state further details will be announced in due course. The Home Office will be prioritizing women and young children, but is silent on further details. Will it became a “Sophie’s choice” where they will have to leave husbands and fathers behind?
It is anticipated that it may well work like the Syrian resettlement scheme. Under the scheme, UKVI worked closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to identify vulnerable refugees who have fled Syria, who they deem in need of resettlement and whose particular needs can only be met in other countries, such as the UK.
This implies that it is likely that Afghans will have to somehow flee across currently shut borders to get to a field officer working for UNCHR in a neighboring country to register their need for protection, then go through the screening process before being allocated to a country who will offer protection.
Any Afghan national already in the UK, whether still having a pending matter or having previously been refused, has a right to claim asylum and or make a fresh submissions. Such claim will have strong merit and providing that nationality is not in dispute, is likely to succeed.
Weighing up the need for urgent relocation against the need for effective immigration control and protecting the public by preventing those with criminal records or even terrorists being allowed to resettle in the UK, is an almighty task. One can just hope that the time for many Afghans it will not be too late.
Andre Minnaar is a Senior Associate and Registered Foreign Lawyer who previously and long before the introduction of Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP), represented an Afghan Interpreter who worked for the Armed Forces, widely published in the media. See https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/british-forces-afghan-interpreter-has-asy...