The Right Hon Rishi Sunak MP
6 January 2023
Dear Prime Minister,
I am concerned that, one year on from the Government’s launch of the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme on the 6th January 2022, many of the most at-risk Afghan citizens the scheme is supposed to help remain in Afghanistan, with significant numbers in hiding due to the risks to life. It is within your gift to address this - and the lives of many Afghan nationals who supported British efforts in Afghanistan are dependent on you doing so.
Since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, there has been broken promise after broken promise from Ministers, including your predecessor, Boris Johnson MP, who said that the Government would “shift heaven and earth” to get people out following the withdrawal of UK from Kabul and the chaos at the city’s airport, which saw the death of two British nationals and the child of another British national.
Promises have not only been broken in relation to those left in Afghanistan. The Government has also still not met the commitment made on the 18 August 2021 by the then Prime Minister to relocate:
“another 5,000 Afghans this year, with a new and bespoke resettlement scheme focusing on the most vulnerable, particularly women and children.”
Ministers have since disingenuously claimed that promise only holds from the point the ACRS officially opened on 6 January 2022, with the Government outwardly communicating targets within the context of resettling the most at-risk Afghan nationals within a year from January 2022 rather than August 2021.
Furthermore, whilst it is true that Afghan nationals have been allocated places on the ACRS during the course of 2022, these have been for people evacuated in 2021 and therefore already in the UK, whereas those who were left behind in Afghanistan and who are most at-risk of harm, or death, whilst they remain there aren’t included.
The efforts to get cases processed and visas issued has been lacklustre, to put it politely. The Home Office has allocated only a handful of staff to process the 11,400 expressions of interested submitted for Pathway 3 of the scheme, for British Council and GardaWorld contractors and for Chevening alumni.
My Brighton Pavilion constituency is home to two universities, so I am in contact with several Chevening alumni who studied in the city and have connections here. They remain living in hiding with their young families, and there is still no clarity on when they will be able to access support to leave Afghanistan and reach safety in the UK. These individuals received assurances from their British Embassy colleagues in Kabul before the Taliban took control that they would be evacuated and would not be forgotten. Yet they were left behind, have not yet been offered a route to safety via the ACRS and the silence from the UK authorities since is alarming. This is a gross dereliction of duty.
Putting Boris Johnson MP’s flimsy comments and empty words aside, the 6th January 2023 marks the end of the “first year” of the ACRS being operational, as communicated by Victoria Atkins MP when the scheme opened. The abject failure of the Government to resettle, or even fully process, applications for those eligible under Pathway 3, and identified as the most at-risk, is shameful. Ministers continue to distort ACRS figures by referencing Afghan nationals who were evacuated during Operation Pitting to the UK, and who have since been resettled via the scheme from within the UK.
The reality is that those in Afghanistan, who supported UK efforts and whom we have a duty to support - the very cohort the Government has itself identified as being the priority group in most urgent need - have not yet been resettled. Moreover, with the Home Office in such a dire state, the prospects for resettlement happens any time soon is dim. This matter needs to be on your radar, and it needs your urgent attention to right this wrong.
The ACRS should be a working and viable legal route to the UK without delay. At present it is not. In your speech earlier this week, you spoke about stopping small boats and removing those who enter the UK “illegally” swiftly. Yet the absence of a properly functioning ACRS scheme means for many there currently is no credible legal route to resettlement for Afghan nationals who are at risk. Until this changes, I fear that we will see further Afghan nationals lose their lives in the Channel, as we tragically saw in December. Making sure that legal resettlement routes are working and fit-for-purpose should be your priority, ahead of criminalising those desperate enough to try to make the crossing.
In your first statement as Prime Minister you said that "trust is earned, and I will earn yours". The broken promises and commitments of Ministers to date in relation to Afghan resettlement need addressing, and I hope that you will recognise this and act.