What has gone wrong with the Afghan resettlement schemes? 

Legal Updates

This blog post outlines the two resettlement schemes available to some people from Afghanistan: the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS). It explains how both schemes have failed to achieve their aims. 

Since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, very few people have been successfully resettled in the UK under these schemes. This means that many people in Afghanistan who are at risk have no safe route to the UK. As a result, between January and March 2022, more Afghans arrived in the UK on small boats than any other nationality. 

This blog also outlines the ongoing problems faced by Afghans who have reached the UK under these schemes. 

How is resettlement different from asylum?

Resettlement schemes are not the same as asylum applications. To claim asylum in the UK, you must be in the UK and apply at the Home Office. There is no asylum visa which you can use to enter the UK. If you arrive in the UK to claim asylum and you are from Afghanistan, you cannot then also apply for resettlement under the ACRS or ARAP (outlined below).

Resettlement is different to an asylum application. You can apply or be referred to a resettlement scheme outside of the UK. Resettlement schemes also allow people who have already been recognised as a refugee to be transferred from one country to another. The UK has other refugee resettlement schemes for people from different countries, such as from Ukraine.

On the 1st April 2021, the government launched a new scheme called the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) to resettle certain groups of Afghans in the UK. The ARAP is only open to current or former staff in Afghanistan employed by the UK government. The ARAP scheme is still open, and people can still apply here. The requirements for ARAP applications can be found here

Around 7,000 people have been relocated to the UK through ARAP. People who were allowed to relocate under the ARAP scheme could bring their partner, dependent children and other eligible family members with them.

Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP)

However, only 5% of people who applied for assistance in August 2021 were helped. The scheme has very narrow eligibility criteria. For example, it does not extend to those working for NGOs and the aid sector whose work makes them at risk from the Taliban. 

Applicants to the ARAP scheme also have to wait a very long time for their application to be processed and responded to because of Home Office delays. The delays have increased the risk of harm and danger of death for many still in Afghanistan. 

Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS)

On the 6th January 2022, the UK opened the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS). The ACRS is a separate scheme to the ARAP, and has slightly wider eligibility criteria. 

You can apply for the ACRS if you are an Afghan citizen who has links to the UK government. This includes British Council teachers, those who fought alongside British Forces, and embassy staff. ACRS also claims to offer more routes for women and children as well as religious and other minorities in danger from the Taliban.

When the ACRS was created, the Home Office stated its aims to resettle over 5,000 people in the first year, and up to 20,000 in the following years. However, by January 2023, just 4 people who have fled Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover have been resettled in the UK.

You cannot apply to ACRS. You are ‘eligible’ under one of the following 3 pathways: 

  1. People already in the UK under Operation Pitting
    Pathway 1 is for people who had already been evacuated in Operation Pitting (the UK’s evacuation effort in August 2021). A large number of people included in this group were already in Britain. This meant that the UK’s commitment to offering 20,000 places is not entirely accurate – some of those included in the figures were already here. 
  1. UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) referred refugees in neighbouring countries
    Pathway 2 is for Afghan families who had fled Afghanistan into neighbouring countries, mostly Pakistan or Iran. These people had to be referred by the UNHCR. At the end of September 2022, 4 people had been resettled under this route
  1. Eligible at-risk in Afghanistan or the region
    Pathway 3 is open to British Council members, GardaWorld contractors, and Chevening Alumni currently in Afghanistan or surrounding areas. Applicants had an 8 week window to submit an Express of Interest Form, which is now closed.

What happens when people who have been resettled arrive in the UK?

The inaccurately named Operation Warm Welcome was launched in September 2021 to welcome Afghans to the UK, but has been characterised by multiple failings. People have been housed in unsuitable hotel accommodation for long periods. Some families have been moved from one hotel to another in a completely different area of the UK. This broken model of accommodation is continuing, despite the Home Office acknowledging that it is not a long term solution. 

Some have questioned whether the scheme has been so badly managed because more resources have been diverted into the immigration routes for Ukrainian nationals. There are under 10 members of staff working on the ACRS, compared with 540 working on the scheme for Ukrainian nationals.

Only those who arrive on Pathway 2 on ACRS will be granted refugee status with indefinite leave to remain (residency in the UK). All other groups arriving under ACRS or ARAP will be granted indefinite leave to remain. This limits the rights you are entitled to, and limits access to family reunion rights. 

What is next?

The UK government is committed to its pledge to resettle more Afghans under the ARAP scheme, and up to 20,000 people under the ACRS. We will see if the Home Office is able to honour its promises. 

A group of families evacuated from Afghanistan have been granted permission to start a legal challenge against the Home Office. This is a challenge to the Home Office decision to move families out of London (where they had lived for almost a year) into an airport hotel in a city in the North of England. 

If you are from Afghanistan and you are in the UK, the Afghan & Central Asian Association (ACAA) is an organisation helping with resettlement and integration. You can contact them here.


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