The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP
24 September 2021
Dear Prime Minister,
I am writing to express my deep ongoing concern about what I can only describe as your Government washing its hands of the situation for 7 of my constituents stranded in Afghanistan who are British nationals, their Afghan family members, and the immediate family members of other constituents.
Despite warm words and promises from you and your Ministers, the reality is nothing short of Kafkaesque. Are you aware that MPs have been advised that, because there is no blanket visa waiver in place, Afghan family members of British citizens still in Afghanistan should go through the usual visa application process – a process which the Home Office admits “is not currently possible…. from within Afghanistan”?
The further advice is therefore to wait “until the visa regime there is up and running again, or for the ACRS to launch.” The Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme was first announced on 18th August and your Government was very aware prior to that date that it would be needed. Yet Parliamentary Questions have elicited no concrete information about when the scheme is expected to start and you will understand, given what appears to be the chaos and confusion at the heart of your Government, that there is limited confidence it is being prioritised with the urgency it demands.
With Parliament now having risen for the party conference recess, and the ACRS scheme only an announcement, your Government is effectively avoiding proper scrutiny of this unforgiveable delay – when every day is a matter of life and death for many of those hoping to make an application via ACRS.
Equally unforgiveable, is that the scheme numbers for the first year are being capped at 5,000. It appears the Government doesn’t know how many of the 5,000 places on the scheme will need to be allocated in the first instance to eligible Afghans already in the UK, such as 500 who were evacuated on Operation Pitting flights but did not qualify for ARAP, or to those that have crossed the border and are in refugee camps.
I suspect you also don’t know the scale of scheme that’s actually required. In my constituency alone, I am aware of 7 British nationals stranded in Afghanistan, who have 51 Afghan national family members between them who are also still in Afghanistan. These are the minimum number of people whom I would expect to meet the eligibility criteria for the scheme, given how many others I am in touch with from specified at risk groups - such as journalists, people who have set up or worked for NGOs, those with British army connections, climate activists and so forth . If even these minimum numbers represent an average replicated across every UK constituency, we are talking about 33,150 cases. A scheme which is offering 5,000 places in the first year and 20,000 over 5 years is demonstrably inadequate –let alone once individuals already in the UK or in camps are included.
If your Government is serious about taking responsibility for its complicity in the unfolding crisis for the people of Afghanistan, it needs, at the very minimum to immediately bring forward the 20,000 cap on ACRS to the first year and open the scheme to applications without further delay.
It should also introduce visa waivers for immediate family members of British nationals still in Afghanistan, rather than relying on a process which, by the Government’s own admission, is impossible and is leaving people without means of travel out of a dangerous situation. A visa waiver would overcome a purely practical obstacle for which there is no reliable timescale for resolution.
It is unimaginable that, as and when any Family Member visa process is up and running again, minimum income criteria will be applied to cases for the next 12 months or that application costs will be charged. Please will you confirm that these will be waived.
And can you confirm that the processing of all outstanding Family Member applications for Afghan nationals is being treated as a priority. For those needing to collect documents from other countries, eg from offices in Islamabad, will you ensure that clear permission to enter the UK is communicated to applicants? This is essential for them to cross borders and evidence to third party countries that onward agreement to the UK has been confirmed.
Moreover, people who were notified and called forward by the UK Government or specifically authorised for evacuation as part of Operation Pitting but were unable to board flights, should be urgently provided with paperwork confirming permission to resettle in the UK and to use this at borders to third countries. It is unacceptable that, at present, your Government is suggesting these individuals will need to use ACRS and existing immigration routes. I’d be grateful if you would also confirm that anyone called forward in this way and not evacuated, will not be criminalised or denied protection on arrival to the UK if they come via an irregular route.
Many households in Afghanistan include several generations, with aunts/siblings/nieces and nephews sometimes operating as a single family unit, dependent on the head of the household. It is inhumane to prevent these family members joining Afghan refugees in the UK who are under 18 – the family reunion rules in these instances should be extended to include parents, dependent children over the age of majority and other dependent extended family members.
For Afghan nationals already in the UK under limited leave to remain visit, study or work visas, and who are eligible to switch onto another via route under ACRS, there should be no requirement to pay the full fees associated with any visa application or meet all the specified criteria. I hope you will agree, given the challenges this presents, the risk of people who are in the UK lawfully losing their legal status, and the unimaginable prospect of them returning to Afghanistan or being forcibly removed.
Secure protection status should also be offered to any Afghans reaching the end of their visa who does not fulfil the criteria for another visa route, and at the very least a generous fee waiver system should be in place for those who do fulfil the criteria to allow them to switch onto another route without financial obstacles.
I would like your personal assurance that the processing of existing Afghan national asylum seeker applications is being carried out without delay. And that all Afghans with outstanding protection claims will be immediately granted protection to enable them to get work, feel safe and reunite with their families under family reunification rights.
Finally, please will you confirm that no Afghans are currently being held in immigration detention, given that no returns are currently possible, and undertake to release anybody who is in detention.
The Government’s response to arguably one of the most significant humanitarian crisis of recent history has so far been obfuscation, back-peddling, chaos and an apparent failure to grasp the scale or severity of the problem.
You have a chance to put this right and make Global Britain something of which to be proud. I very much hope you will not continue to let down my constituents, their family members or the thousands of other Afghans whose lives are now at very real risk because of their association with the UK.