August 27th 2021
Dear Priti and Dominic,
Like most MPs, I'm receiving a considerable amount of correspondence from constituents who are desperately worried about family members at risk in Afghanistan. The devastating attacks at Kabul airport yesterday and the deteriorating security situation has only heightened their fears and growing sense of panic.
Whilst I recognise that both Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and Home Office teams are likely to be overwhelmed by the volume of correspondence being received, I am concerned by the difficulty there has been getting clear information on cases raised in relation to those identified as being eligible under the ARAP scheme. I'm in contact with some people who have worked in roles that should make them eligible for assistance via the ARAP route, yet they are not getting any information about their options or support from the UK authorities, and I have not yet heard anything concrete on these cases from the enquiries I have made. I have been highlighting such cases via the MP hotline routes that have been communicated to MPs, but so far this has not led to any clear information or updates on these urgent cases.
I am further concerned by the lack of clarity to date about the Afghan citizens' resettlement scheme: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/afghan-citizens-resettlement-scheme, of which there are scant details available at the moment. With the scheme not yet open for applications, and it being simply communicated that further details will be announced in 'due course', it is leaving many people more anxious about the options their family members will have in reality if / when they are able to flee Afghanistan in order to try and reach safety and to seek asylum.
Please would you provide more information about when the Afghan citizens' resettlement scheme will open for applications. With such confused communication about options in the here and now from Government departments for Afghani nationals desperate to flee and seek sanctuary abroad, which I do understand is in part due to the chaotic situation on the ground, being able to at least confirm clear and concrete details about the resettlement scheme would provide my worried constituents with some reassurance that UK Government is serious about its responsibilities to provide refuge and sanctuary to those caught up in this humanitarian crisis, and that their family members will be able to submit applications via the scheme shortly.
From the case work that I receive on a day to day basis, I am also already very aware of the significant Home Office processing delays many asylum seekers experience, with it not being uncommon for applications to take years to conclude. Therefore, I am also seeking more information about what steps the Home Office is taking to increase capacity and to direct resources to ensure that asylum application processing for those in desperate need will run smoothly, and that decisions will be made within reasonable timeframes.
Other immediate actions that the Home Office could and should take without delay include:
- abandoning the 'resettlement-only' plans in the Nationality and Borders Bill to ensure that people are not criminalised or denied refugee status when making their own journeys to seek asylum in the UK
- add siblings and parents to the family reunion route so that Afghans can join existing family members in the UK via this policy
- provide existing asylum seekers who have an outstanding application with refugee status so they have the immediate security they need
- ensure that robust processes are in place within the Home Office to identify and to expedite cases in relation to Afghan nationals at risk who are seeking asylum
With regard to Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) support from this point, with some evacuation options diminishing, I am keen to know what discussions and options are being considered when evacuation via Kabul airport is no longer feasible - eg whether the need for a humanitarian manned corridor from neighbouring countries, such as Pakistan, to ensure people can reach safety is under discussion.
Given the communication issues to date, I am also keen for processes to be improved upon to ensure that FCDO teams are resourced and equipped to respond to the volume of enquiries received.
I do know that there is recognition of the scale of this crisis within Government, but I am extremely concerned that the lack of response to date in relation to resettlement and asylum options, as well as the absence of any clear indication of resources being expanded to tackle the administrative processes that might be needed in the months ahead, together pose a significant risk to many of those needing urgent support and sanctuary. I would like an update on these important and pressing issues, and your assurance that the Government is stepping up efforts and resources to tackle the communication and processing issues identified to date, as well as expanding the scope of asylum options for those affected by this significant and humanitarian crisis.