UK government urged to honour pledge to Afghan refugees’ families

Diane Taylor

The Guardian

Tue 17 Jan 2023

More than 100 charities and activists are calling on the prime minister to facilitate the resettlement of family members of thousands of Afghans who came to the UK under a government scheme.

The government pledged to resettle family members in the UK but at the moment there is no mechanism for them to do this. Campaigners have accused the government of abandoning Afghans in danger who were promised the right to reunite with family members in the UK.

It has been a year since the scheme for Afghans rescued under Operation Pitting, known asthe Afghan citizens resettlement scheme (ACRS), was launched.

The 6,300 Afghans who have been brought to the UK under the scheme but who had to leave their families behind in Afghanistan say their loved ones are in grave danger. They do not know if and when the government will allow them to reunite with loved ones.

The letter to Sunak, coordinated by Safe Passage International, highlights that vulnerable family members – including women, girls and those from persecuted religious and minority ethnic communities – have been forced to live in hiding in Afghanistan, putting their lives at great risk.

The UK has committed to resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees under ACRS.

Beth Gardiner-Smith, the chief executive of Safe Passage International, said: “It’s been 18 months since families were torn apart when Kabul fell. The government has effectively abandoned Afghans, leaving them without a process to reunite with loved ones who are at risk despite repeated promises made.

“Afghans remain one of the top nationalities risking their lives to cross the Channel, but rather than create the safe routes that would allow them to reunite with family, the prime minister prefers to concentrate on new laws to further punish refugees.”

Campaigners are asking the prime minister to honour the commitments made to Afghan families. The government’s own guidance, published in September 2021, committed to helping families of members of those in the UK under ACRS. A factsheet for Afghans evacuated to the UK, published in April 2022, promised “further information will be made available in due course about options for reuniting’ with family”.

Amir, 23, a photographer and a young leader with Safe Passage, was evacuated from Afghanistan in August 2021. He has been living alone in the UK without his parents and sister ever since. “I’m depressed and nervous for my family, my friends and for the women in Afghanistan, especially my mother and sister,” he said. “They’re not allowed to go outside any more. Now I’m alone and it’s really hard, and it is for them as well.”

Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, one of the letter’s signatories, said: “Refugee Council’s frontline staff are supporting Afghan evacuees who remain separated from their close family. We have provided support to children who were evacuated without their parents and have no idea when they will see their mum or dad again.

“The impact of this separation is huge. Children cannot focus on making new friends and settling into a new school. Adults cannot focus on learning English or getting a job when they’re consumed with worry for the safety or their partner or their child.

“The lack of any visible action from government is only making the situation worse, with many of the people we support feeling increasingly helpless.”

Along with Safe Passage and the Refugee Council, signatories to the letter include several Afghan organisations, Refugee Action, Choose Love, Ben and Jerry’s, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), the Welsh Refugee Council, Islamic Relief and Oxfam GB.

The letter states: “We are asking you, prime minister, to honour the commitments made to Afghan families. Will you today recommit to reunite families separated during the evacuations as the government promised? Living in uncertainty, Afghan refugees are desperate to know that you have not forgotten their loved ones and will deliver on the promises made as Kabul fell.”

A government spokesperson said: “So far we have brought almost 23,000 vulnerable people to safety, including thousands of people eligible for our Afghan relocation schemes.

“This complex situation presents us with significant challenges, including securing safe passage out of the country for those who want to leave – and who are eligible for resettlement in the UK”

UK government urged to honour pledge to Afghan refugees’ families