First and foremost, I do recognise what a vitally important issue this is, and I am diligently actioning all individual casework raised by my constituents in relation to British and non-British nationals in Afghanistan. Please be assured that I will continue to take forward these specific cases with the utmost urgency.
I am sure you agree that we owe a debt of gratitude to all those who have worked to make Afghanistan a better place over the last 20 years. It is the case that many of these people, such as women and children, are now in urgent need of help.
I am proud of the United Kingdom's history of welcoming those fleeing persecution and oppression. I know that the Government will always stand by those in the world in their hour of need.
It is therefore extremely encouraging that thousands of Afghan women, children and others most in need will be welcomed to the UK. The new Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) is one of the most generous resettlement schemes in the history of the UK. The new route is modelled on the successful Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, which resettled 20,000 Syrian refugees over a 7-year period from 2014 to 2021.
Ministers previously outlined that the new scheme would resettle 5,000 Afghan nationals in its first year, and I am delighted that the Minister for Afghan Resettlement, Victoria Atkins, has confirmed that, in light of the emerging situation in Afghanistan and the success of the UK’s evacuation efforts, the UK will exceed that aim.
The first to be resettled under the new ACRS will be those already evacuated and in the UK. They include women’s rights activists, journalists, and prosecutors, as well as the Afghan families of British nationals. I welcome that the Government is supporting those British nationals who have been assisted by Her Majesty’s Government to the UK as well as their families who require such help as it is recognised that they experienced the same trauma and have the same needs as their Afghan neighbours fleeing Kabul alongside them.
In addition, two further referral pathways under the ACRS will open later this year, bringing more people to safety. From the spring, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will refer refugees in need of resettlement who have fled Afghanistan, including the prioritisation of women and girls.
The third referral pathway will resettle those at risk who supported the UK and international community efforts in Afghanistan, as well as those who are particularly vulnerable, such as women and girls at risk and members of minority groups.
In note of the concerns raised with the structure of the ACRS, and the fact it will initially prioritise those already in the UK. I must, however, stress that this settlement scheme is one of the most generous settlement schemes in the history of the UK. It also demonstrates the Government’s New Plan for Immigration in action - to expand and strengthen our safe and legal routes to the UK for those in need of protection.
It is welcome news that funding will be made available to resettle refugees from Afghanistan to the UK under the ACRS. This will include £20,520 per person for local authorities who resettle Afghan families, with an additional £17 million available for housing costs and an extra £20 million pot of flexible funding.
I would like to reassure you that this new scheme is separate from, and in addition to, the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), which offers any current or former locally employed staff who are assessed to be under serious threat to life priority relocation to the UK. Around 7,000 people alone have already been helped by this scheme.
I also believe that international co-operation is essential in this area and therefore welcome the fact that the UK is working with international partners to develop a system to identify those most at risk and resettle them, ensuring help goes to those that need it.
If you would like to support operation Warm Welcome, which seeks to ensure support is provided to Afghans once they have been resettled, the Government has launched a bespoke housing portal to enable members of the public to offer homes. Further details can be found online at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/afghanistan-housing-portal-offers-of-support.
If you would like to offer employment support to Afghans, part of the resettlement programme ensures that resettled Afghans receive the vital health, education, support into employment and accommodation they need to fully integrate into society. I suggest it is worth writing to the local job centre and council to ensure they are aware that you may be in a position to provide employment support or employment opportunities.
I also understand that the Government will launch a community sponsorship scheme to allow community groups to play a direct role in supporting the resettlement and integration of people in need from Afghanistan.
Finally, I welcome the Government's absolute focus on the health and wellbeing of families from the moment they arrive in the UK. This includes giving everyone a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, if they have not already received one. This is both the right, and sensible, thing to do, ensuring individuals and our wider communities are protected from COVID-19.