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.
Moreover, 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 Christians and other religious minorities, are now in urgent need of help.
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 scheme, which opened on 6 January 2022, will prioritise vulnerable people, including women and girls at risk, and members of minority groups at risk (including ethnic and religious minorities). Anyone who is resettled through the ACRS will receive indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK and will be able to apply for British citizenship after five years in the UK under existing rules.
More broadly, I would like to reassure you that I am committed to defending freedom of religion or belief for all and promoting respect between different religious and non-religious communities. Indeed, promoting the right to freedom of religion or belief is one of the UK’s longstanding human rights priorities.
That is why I am glad the Independent Review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office support for persecuted Christians, conducted by the Anglican Bishop of Truro, the Right Reverend Philip Mounstephen, was published in 2019.
The Government has committed to implementing the Bishop’s 22 recommendations in full, and work continues to implement them in a way that will bring real improvements in the lives of those persecuted because of their faith or belief. Of the 22 recommendations, the UK has achieved 16 of the recommendations, and are making good progress on the remaining six.