Since the collapse of the Afghan Government following the Taliban takeover on 15 August 2021, it is estimated that 15,000 individuals fleeing the region, have arrived in the UK. On 29 August 2021, Boris Johnson announced ‘Operation Warm Welcome’, which included a preliminary outline of a support package for affected individuals, covering areas including education, housing, employment, and health. While the support package is developing as the situation progresses, below is an outline of the support currently available/proposed.
1. Individuals who previously assisted the UK’s efforts in Afghanistan: Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (“ARAP”)
Launched on 1 April 2021, the ARAP is a scheme designed to resettle Afghan nationals who had supported the UK efforts in Afghanistan, such as locally employed staff.
Eligibility criteria include:
- The individual must be at risk of reprisal as a result of their work for the UK Government, such as where their identities were exposed e.g. interpreters.
- Individuals must not have committed offences that would constitute a crime under UK laws e.g. sexual and violent assault and drug abuse.
- Individuals must not have been dismissed during their work for the UK Government, for ‘serious’ reasons.
- Passing UK security checks.
Those successful under ARAP would receive indefinite leave to remain, meaning there is no time limit on the individuals’ stay in the UK. Additionally:
- The UK Government has pledged £3 million of additional NHS funding to ARAP so that individuals will be able to access UK healthcare and for instance, register with a GP. All individuals (regardless of qualification for ARAP) will also be offered the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Individuals will be provided with education and employment support, including free English language courses.
- Individuals will be exempt from the usual residency tests (a test to show the individual is intending to stay in the UK), for certain social security benefits e.g. Universal Credit, Housing Benefit, etc.
2. For individuals at risk of danger from the Taliban – Afghanistan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (“ACRS”)
The ACRS is still to be launched and is broadly based on the same eligibility requirements as the ARAP, as well as providing similar support to individuals and their families. However, instead of eligibility being dependent on having worked with the UK Government in its operations in Afghanistan, eligibility is instead based on vulnerable and at-risk characteristics of individuals generally e.g. those who have stood up for women’s rights and freedom of speech, LGBT and religious minority groups, etc.
The UK Government will prioritise resettling those who have arrived in the UK under its evacuation programme but will additionally work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to identify further people who are most at risk and in need of resettlement. The ACRS is set to provide support for 5,000 Afghans in its first year, and 20,000 over the following years.
3. Other legal avenues
Besides ARAP and ACRS, the traditional routes of asylum and points-based immigration will continue to remain available, for individuals who have fled Afghanistan. Additionally, there are special considerations that judges will make in the context of granting asylum, explained in another article in this edition of the Brussels Agenda.
The UK Government’s preliminary outline of proposed support for individuals fleeing Afghanistan sounds promising, with significant funding being opened up to facilitate this e.g. £20 million in flexible funding in the current financial year, to cover additional costs.
However, it has been reported by the Independent that the movement to turn the support outlined above into concrete action has been slow, with Afghans still reportedly being stuck in limbo for over a month, in UK hotels. In a life altering period for many individuals who have fled Afghanistan with little more than a suitcase of personal belongings, whether the UK Government will be able to provide a ‘Warm Welcome’, remains to be seen.