The government has been accused of abandoning vulnerable Afghans, as figures showed just 233 people were resettled in the UK under the flagship program this year.
According to the latest statistics, it has been confirmed that Afghans were the most common nationality crossing the Channel in the first half of 2023.
At least 1,474 Afghan nationals arrived in small boats from January to June, Interior Ministry figures released on Thursday showed.
Afghans fleeing the Taliban are forced to make the perilous journey across the English Channel because they cannot access official routes, which have been criticized as too narrow.
The Independent has revealed that Afghans who served alongside British troops were threatened with deportation to Rwanda once they reached British shores.
Military leaders and politicians have urged Rishi Sunak to “develop a plan” to relocate the hundreds of Afghans eligible for UK resettlement who are currently stuck in Pakistan.
New figures show that just 66 people have so far been resettled under the second program of the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (Acrs), which was designed to help vulnerable Afghans find refuge in the UK. Around 41 people have opted for the third way, which supports Afghan teachers who have worked with the British Council, among others.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) UK said the low numbers showed that “the government had failed to provide shelter to vulnerable Afghans”.
Laura Kyrke-Smith, Chief Executive of IRC UK, said: “As the IRC UK Act evolved, the Government kept reassuring concerned MPs and the British public that there were ‘safe routes’ for refugees from countries like Afghanistan.” These statistics show that these routes just don’t match the scale of the need.”
She called on the government to expand the Acrs program “to meet the original commitment of 20,000 places”.
Afghans were the second most common nationality applying for asylum in the year to June 2023, with 9,964 applications, almost double the number in the previous 12 months (5,154).
After the Taliban took power in August 2021, the British military flew thousands of people out of the country to safety in the UK and set up two programs to help those left behind. But both the Acrs and the Department of Defense’s Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) have drawn criticism from campaigners and charities, who have called them too slow and limited.
“Lack of safe and legal pathways” for migrants, said Suella Braverman of the Tory MP
Pathway one of the Acrs programme, which focused on those who arrived in the UK under the evacuation program or were unable to board flights at the time of the large-scale evacuation, relocated 126 people over the year to June.
Under the Arap scheme, launched in April 2021 for those working for or with the UK government in Afghanistan, 2,336 people were resettled in the UK in the 12 months to June this year.
The government promised to relocate more than 5,000 people in Acrs’ first year and up to 20,000 people in the coming years.
In the two years between July 2021 and June this year, a total of 9,778 people were resettled under Acrs – although more than 9,000 were resettled before the program officially opened in January 2022.
By the end of June, 6,575 Afghans were in hotels or shelters, half of whom were children, the government said.
Afghans have been given a deadline to leave the hotels by the end of August. Cabinet Secretary Johnny Mercer earlier this month acknowledged the announcement was “a controversial move” but stressed it was made “with compassion in mind” to get people into permanent accommodation.
Councils have raised concerns that many of those evicted from hotels could end up being considered homeless and therefore may need temporary housing.