The takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban during the summer last year was an action that horrified the world.
At the time, we discussed on these pages the concern we had from the gut-wrenching images of people so desperate to flee that they risked their lives clinging to taking-off aircraft and there were even reports of people being shot in the streets. To say that Afghanistan faced a humanitarian crisis was an understatement, with desperate people seemingly willing to do anything to escape their homeland.
As we enter a new year, as a specialist immigration law firm, Optimus Law has decided to revisit the situation in Afghanistan, to see what the situation is now – and to provide an update on these still looking for resettlement elsewhere in the world.
UK resettlement scheme
Back in August, UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced that women, children, and religious minorities would be prioritised in a new UK resettlement scheme giving 20,000 Afghan refugees the right to settle in the UK over five years.
What is the situation now?
Just before Christmas, the Guardian reported that the UK government confirmed the resettlement scheme will start this month, in January 2022. However, charities working with refugees have asked the government to provide more clarity about how the scheme will work, with concerns being raised about how the refugees are currently being treated.
A separate Guardian article reports that some 12,000 Afghan refugees remain in UK hotels as the government struggles to persuade enough councils to find permanent homes for the new arrivals. It says that of the 16,500 people airlifted from Afghanistan since August, “over 4,000 individuals have either moved into a settled home or are in the process of being moved or matched to a suitable home”, according to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
The rest are, according to the newspaper, waiting eagerly for news of where they will begin to rebuild their lives.
As of 7 December, about 7,500 people had been relocated to the UK under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (ARAP), which offered sanctuary to any current or former UK government employees who faced intimidation or a threat to their life.
Operation Pitting, the Afghan airlift in August, brought 15,000 people to the UK. Since the evacuation, a further 1,500 people have followed.
More than 12,000 Afghan evacuees remained in bridging accommodation as of 22 December, according to the Guardian, referencing sources at both the DWP and Home Office. At least 4,000 of those are in London, according to London Councils, the local government association for Greater London.
A worldwide round-up
Australia: Prime minister, Scott Morrison, said the country will provide around 3,000 humanitarian visas to Afghan nationals following the Taliban takeover. A current message on the Australian government’s website, however, shows that delays are being experienced: “The Department is receiving very high numbers of humanitarian visa applications and it is taking longer than normal for applications to be formally acknowledged and processed”.
Canada: Reuters reports that Canada has promised to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees but has no timeline for doing so. Since the Taliban took control of the country in August, Canada has resettled 3,915 Afghans with connections to the Canadian government and another 2,535 on humanitarian grounds, according to government figures.
Iran: As a direct neighbour to Afghanistan, Iran continues to face pressure because of the Afghanistan crisis. Every day, thousands fleeing the fallout of multiple humanitarian crises in the country are reportedly crossing into neighbouring Iran – which already hosts more than three million Afghans. Iran is stepping up deportations, sending 20,000 or 30,000 Afghans back every week. During 2021, Iran deported more than 1.1 million Afghans as of Nov. 21 — 30% higher than the total in all of 2020, according to the International Organization for Migration. Those deported often try again, many times over.
USA: Last month it was reported that more than 29,000 Afghans remain on U.S. military bases thanks, in part, to a shortage of affordable housing and the pandemic. At the time of the Taliban’s takeover in August, Joe Biden authorized up to $500m from an emergency fund to meet unexpected, urgent refugee needs stemming from the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, including for Afghan special immigration visa (SIV) applicants.