Fears grow that Home Office has lost will to resettle Afghans under threat

Priti Patel’s much-trumpeted scheme to allow Afghans to resettle in Britain has been starved of “appropriate resources”, according to officials, as a former senior diplomat voices fears that the UK government appears intent to let the initiative wither away before it has even started.

The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) was announced to great fanfare in August as the Taliban took Kabul, but four months on it has still not started. A senior Whitehall source with intimate knowledge of the scheme said it had been delayed because it had not received adequate support for it to launch.

Adam Thomson, a former Foreign Office director for Afghanistan, said that, based on his experience, it appeared evident that the scheme to resettle vulnerable Afghans had been a cynical show of political opportunism that was now destined to fail.

“It looks like a politically expedient announcement. With the media focus having gone elsewhere, the government has lost political will, lost focus and lost implementation.

“It’s a tried and tested technique. You announce something, you look good. Then somehow circumstances prevent you from actually achieving your targets,” said Thomson, who is also a former UK ambassador to Pakistan and Nato”.

Since the announcement of the resettlement scheme on 18 August more than 100 days have passed with no apparent tangible progress. Its website has not been updated since 13 September and confirms the programme “is not yet open”.

Last night, however, the government issued a statement saying it was committed to the initiative and that the ACRS was “one of the most generous schemes in our country’s history”.

Without offering a timeframe, it promised “more details soon” on a scheme which was promoted by ministers as a programme to help women, children and religious minorities at risk of Taliban reprisals.

Similar disquiet also surrounds the resources and effectiveness of another government relocation scheme involving Afghanistan – the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap).

On Friday, a parliamentary answer revealed that just 84 officials have been assigned to Arap, which was launched in April and conceived to resettle people who worked for the UK in Afghanistan. The same parliamentary response confirmed it had so far received more than 90,000 applications, with more arriving each day – a caseload that suggests each official is dealing with or has processed more than 1,000 applications.

When the Home Office was asked how many officials had been assigned to the resettlement scheme, it would not provide a figure. Similarly, no indication of resources relating to the scheme has been provided, although a Whitehall source said if they had wanted to get the scheme up and running quickly they could have recruited volunteers from the civil service.

The Whitehall source, who has knowledge of the ACRS, said: “The resettlement scheme was a ticket for people to rebuild their life but it’s just not been resourced appropriately.”

Thomson added: “As far as I can tell there’s no cross-Whitehall coordination mechanism that brings together FCDO [the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office], the Home Office and the MoD to actually make sense of Arap and launch ACRS.”

A spokesperson for Adam Smith International (ASI), which delivered UK government aid programmes in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2018, said the failure to open the resettlement scheme had compounded eligibility issues with regard to Arap and had left hundreds in grave danger.

“Almost none of our former staff have had any update or information about their applications since the evacuation finished. The ACRS scheme is not yet open. This has left hundreds of our staff from UK projects in a desperate situation in Kabul, without hope and without information,” they said.

Only about 20 of ASI’s former staff out of more than 230 who applied for resettlement via the Arap scheme have so far been given the chance to relocate to the UK.

The government said: “ACRS is one of the most generous schemes in our country’s history and will give up to 20,000 further people at risk a new life in the UK. We are working across government and with partners such as UNHCR [the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] to design and open the scheme amidst a complex and changing picture. We are committed to working in step with the international community to get this right.”

Courtesy: The Guardian

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