What happened to the “Warm Welcome” for Afghan Refugees?

Legal Updates

On 3 August 2023, the Refugee Council published a report on how the British government had failed to support Afghan refugees, since the fall of Kabul in August 2021. The report finds that the government failed to achieve their aims and promises to Afghan refugees, under “Operation Warm Welcome”. 

This blog outlines the key points highlighted in the Refugee Council’s report.  

The two resettlement schemes available to people from Afghanistan are the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS). We have written a Legal Update  blog post about what these schemes aimed to do and how they failed. 

Read about the Afghan resettlement schemes here

What went wrong?

Resettlement

According to the report, of the 8,429 Afghans who crossed the channel in the year ending March 2023, only a shocking 96 have been newly resettled in the UK. Because of the failure to resettle people, hundreds of refugees are stuck in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The UK government has housed these people in government-funded hotels in Pakistan, while they wait to travel to the UK. There has been a delay in travel to the UK because of a lack of accommodation available once people arrive. It is unfair that refugees are being promised safety in the UK, and instead stuck in limbo because of the governments lack of care towards them.   

Temporary hotel accommodation

After the UK evacuation of troops from Kabul in August 2021 by the UK, Afghans who arrived in the UK and did not have accommodation were housed in hotels temporarily, while waiting for longer term housing. But thousands of people, including families, have been stuck in temporary accommodation, with no way out. Afghan refugees have faced the threat of eviction and homelessness. It is shocking that this is the response the government has chosen, particularly after the devastation Afghan refugees have experienced.  

Family reunion

Despite the UK government’s promises to reunite Afghan families, there is still no mechanism for Afghan refugees to reunite with families who were left behind in the evacuation. Being separated from loved ones is making life in the UK harder than it already is for Afghans, and there seems to be no clarity about how they can be reunited. A testimony featured in the report by Zuliha, a 20-year old who fled Afghanistan, highlights the worry and fear felt by many Afghans: 

“When we arrived in the UK, we had no idea where our parents were and we were extremely sad. We had nothing to do all day apart from worry about parents.” 

What’s next?

Due to the government’s failures to support, evacuate, and provide refuge, Afghans have no choice but to make their own way across the Channel, to reunite with family, flee persecution and seek sanctuary. 

To add insult to already-horrific injury, under the recently passed Illegal Migration Act 2023, anyone arriving by small boat after leaving Afghanistan will be prohibited from claiming asylum in the UK and will face detention and removal. 

There is a clear double bind – the so-called “Illegal” Migration Act will bar the processing of Afghan asylum claims and deem them inadmissible, but it also won’t establish safe routes. Many Afghans will have no option but to flee Afghanistan, make dangerous journeys and risk being locked out of the asylum system and face homelessness or  detention.

The failures of the British government are evident – the Afghan people have been let down by the constant broken promises. They are stuck in limbo and are threatened with removal, homelessness, and deportation. 

The Refugee Council report calls for three key recommendations: 

  • The British government must ensure that all Afghans who have been resettled to the UK are supported to find permanent housing before they leave their hotel
  • The British government must fulfil its commitment to safely resettle Afghan refugees to the UK
  • All Afghan evacuees should be able to be reunited in the UK with their families

Right to Remain supports the findings of this report and we thank Refugee Council for uncovering the many failures by the British government. We condemn theis failings and we urge the government to give justice to the refugees stuck in limbo because of their actions. We stand in solidarity with the Afghan refugees, people seeking sanctuary and all migrants, because migration is life. 

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