My Noble Friend the Minister of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Home Office (Lord Harrington of Watford) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement:
I am pleased to announce to the House today the opening of the two remaining referral pathways to the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme.
Last August, as the situation in Afghanistan deteriorated rapidly, this Government worked at great speed to evacuate more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan within a fortnight. This was the biggest mission of its kind in generations and the second largest evacuation carried out by any country and we are rightly proud of what we achieved.
The evacuation included British nationals and their families, Afghans who had loyally served the UK, and other vulnerable people. Since the events of last August, we have continued to support those at risk with over 4,000 more people being brought to safety.
In January 2022, the then Minister for Afghan Resettlement announced the launch of a new Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), which will resettle up to 20,000 eligible people over the coming years. This is in addition to those who have been relocated under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP).
There is no application process for the Scheme, instead eligible individuals will be referred for resettlement via three referral ‘pathways’.
The first of these referral pathways offers a place on the ACRS for some of the individuals and families who were brought to safety in the UK under Op PITTING. We will honour our commitments to eligible people who were called forward or specifically authorised for evacuation, but who were unable to board flights.
Today, I am pleased to announce the opening of the two remaining referral pathways onto the ACRS.
Firstly, under pathway 2, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will refer for resettlement to the UK, refugees who have fled Afghanistan. UNHCR has the global mandate to provide international protection and humanitarian assistance to refugees. We are pleased to announce that we are now ready to begin receiving referrals. We anticipate receiving referrals from UNHCR for up to 2,000 refugees during the first year of this pathway, although this number will be kept under review. We will continue to receive UNHCR referrals to the scheme in coming years.
Under pathway 3, we committed to considering eligible at-risk British Council and GardaWorld contractors and Chevening alumni. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) will refer up to 1,500 people from Afghanistan and the region to the Home Office for resettlement, including any eligible family members. The FCDO will launch an online system on Monday 20 June, where eligible individuals will be able to express interest in UK resettlement. Expressions of interest will be considered in the order they are received, although some groups will be prioritised because the role they performed or the project they worked on mean they are particularly at risk, or because there are exceptionally compelling circumstances. Expressions of interest will be accepted until Monday 15 August 2022, when the online system will close. Guidance on the expression of interest process is available on gov.uk [from Monday 13 June].
Any offer of resettlement under the ACRS will be contingent on security screening, including checks against security and other databases, and provision of biometric information. In the interests of public safety, it is right that individuals who are found to have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, terrorism or other serious crimes will not be eligible for resettlement.
Whilst we recognise the plight of many vulnerable individuals who remain in Afghanistan and the region, the capacity of the UK to resettle people under this scheme is not unlimited and difficult decisions have had to be made on who will be prioritised for resettlement. Nevertheless, we will continue to be committed to supporting the people of Afghanistan and after the first year of the third referral pathway, we will continue to work with international partners and NGOs to welcome wider groups of Afghans at risk.
Resettlement is just one element of the UK Government’s response to the situation in Afghanistan, in addition to our diplomatic efforts and international aid in the region, working alongside like-minded states and as part of the international community.
Through the ACRS, the United Kingdom continues to offer safe and legal routes to those in need of protection. The scheme provides another demonstration of our New Plan for Immigration in action.
We are proud to provide those affected by events in Afghanistan with a route to safety and look forward to warmly welcoming individuals and families into our communities across the UK.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords