By Ollie Campbell
Britain offers a sub-par resettlement plan for fleeing Afghans.
Warnings for a sustainable refugee resettlement scheme have been prominent in the British Parliament for several weeks. Before the Taliban took over any major cities, the Government were alerted to their shortcomings in response to the refugee crisis from a number of retired army officials. A letter was sent to the Government that was signed by more than thirty-five retired senior military commanders, which highlighted that Afghans who have previously worked for the British Army are not being offered enough support from Britain.
The letter announced that “Too many of our former interpreters have been unnecessarily and unreasonably rejected” and that if “any of our former interpreters are murdered by the Taliban in wake of our withdrawal, the dishonour would lay squarely at our nation’s feet.”
Less than two weeks after this letter was received by the Government, the Taliban managed to take over Kabul almost completely unchallenged. 18 August saw Parliament being recalled to debate the situation as the crisis exacerbates with no substantial moves being made by the Government. With many MPs, especially Conservatives, criticising the lack of decision by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson quickly announced a commitment to resettle twenty thousand Afghans over the next five years. However, the requirements of the resettlement scheme remain unnecessarily bureaucratic.
To host a refugee in a vacant residential property, the house or flat has to be self-contained with no shared facilities and available for at least twelve months. This is asking a lot from landlords who are offering up spare accommodation. Although there is some financial help for supporting Afghanis, requiring a twelve-month minimum means the opportunity cost of missing a year's worth of rent is huge for anyone with real estate. Additionally, lots of people have spare rooms that don't fit the Government requirements to house refugees. Needing a room to be self-contained means that there is much less available accommodation, because these rooms don't fit the Government requirements. Although the restrictions on which properties are understandable in a time of such crisis for those attempting to escape Afghanistan, surely the Government should be aiming for as many refugees as possible to be integrated into a safer society.
Whilst the British Army was still in Afghanistan they hired several Afghan citizens to act as translators, drivers, construction workers and similar style jobs. At the same time, British companies, charities and non-profit organisations have hired Afghanistan contractors when working in the area. To compensate for this, the British Government have offered up an asylum to Afghans. However, since 2013 only one thousand four hundred families have successfully relocated to Britain. With the various majorities that the Government have had since 2015, surely the visa application process could have been sped up for those who assisted the work of Britain in Afghanistan. At least the US has the excuse of the cumbersome legal process that is formed by the heavily divided Congress.
As a result of Covid and the refugee crisis, over three thousand five hundred applications are being processed, with the number climbing substantially. Claims from the Government suggest the ability to evacuate around one thousand people a day from Afghanistan. Despite all the efforts that are beginning to come together, arriving at an airport is becoming more and more hazardous for those trying to leave the country. Even if evacuations massively increase in speed, a large number are inevitably left behind as the US plans to give up the airport on 31 August.
It is probably unlikely that the Government improve their resettlement scheme that much. The current attempts to rehouse Afghans is based upon the Syrian refugee plan which in itself, was fairly unsuccessful. Although this will hopefully be a more long-term plan because it will select families from refugee camps in third party countries, not from Afghanistan itself, this relieves some of the pressure from the Taliban preventing evacuations. This is far from a “bespoke resettlement scheme” that the Prime Minister claims it is. Both the PM and the Home Secretary have made it clear that their hard-line stance on asylum and immigration will not be faltered even during the current circumstances. If the Government doesn’t change a lot in terms of the number of refugees it will accept, it is fully in the hands of the Taliban as to how much these Afghans must suffer.
Image credit: UK Prime Minister