Thank you for contacting me about Afghanistan, the legacy of the UK and allies' intervention there and the Government's policy on refugees..
Twenty years ago, in 2001, the United States suffered the most catastrophic attack on its people since the Second World War, in which 67 British citizens also lost their lives, at the hands of murderous terrorist groups incubated in Afghanistan. In response, NATO invoked Article V of its Treaty, for the first and only time in its history, and the UK, amongst others, joined the US in going into Afghanistan in order to destroy Al Qaeda's presence there. As the Prime Minister said in the House, the UK succeeded in that core mission.
The UK can be extremely proud of what has been done in Afghanistan over the last 20 years and we owe an immense debt of gratitude to the 150,000 British personnel who fought in Afghanistan, in particular the 457 who sadly lost their lives as well as those who sustained life-changing injuries, in service of this mission. These men and women saved lives, denying terrorists a safe haven to launch attacks against the UK and our allies. Because of their actions, the UK has conferred benefits that are lasting and ineradicable on millions of people in one of the poorest countries on earth and provided vital protection for two decades to this country and the world.
Their service and sacrifice enabled development that has improved millions of lives and transformed Afghan society. Twenty years ago in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, for instance, no girls attended school and women were excluded from all governance. Today, millions of girls have been in school this year alone and women hold more than a quarter of the seats in Afghanistan’s Parliament and prominent positions in the Afghan media and civil society.
We should not lose sight of these gains. At the same time, at this uncertain juncture in Afghanistan's history, we must ensure that these gains are not lost; that Afghanistan does not once again become a breeding ground for terror, and that the hard-won rights of Afghans are not taken away. I am assured by the Prime Minister that HM Government, using every political and diplomatic means at its disposable, is urgently engaged upon this task.
Women, Girls and Minorities
The gains of the last twenty years, especially the education of girls, employment of women and the rights of minorities, must not be lost. If the Taliban continue to abuse basic human rights, particularly of women, children, and ethnic and religious minorities, they cannot expect to enjoy any legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people or the international community. The Taliban have to understand that they will be accountable for any abuses that take place on their watch. Foreign Office Minister Lord Ahmad underscored the UK’s commitment to protecting the rights of all Afghans, including women, girls, religious minorities including Christians and others at risk of persecution, at the UN Human Rights Council on 24 August.
Relocating Locally Employed Staff to the UK:
Afghan civilians working with British forces, including as interpreters, played a vital role in supporting our military in challenging and often hostile situations, and I welcome the fact that Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, has made clear that the safety of those who have worked alongside our Armed Forces over the past 20 years is of the utmost importance.
Crucially, the Ministry of Defence put provisions in place to support the safe evacuation of Afghan locally employed staff (LES), alongside entitled personnel and British nationals. Under Operation Pitting, the now concluded military operation established to support the evacuation of these personnel, over 15,000 people were airlifted on over 165 flights. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to these people, and I have been assured that the Government is doing everything it can to continue to support personnel eligible for relocation to the UK who are still in Afghanistan or who have left and are now in a third country.
The relocation of LES to the UK is being carried out as part of the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), which launched on 1 April 2021. The programme offers relocation to current and former employees such as embassy support staff, those in political and counter-terrorism roles, or cultural advisors who could face threats related to their occupation. Under the scheme, which is not time limited, anyone facing imminent risk such as intimidation or threat to life is offered priority relocation regardless of their employment status, rank or role, or length of time served.
Family of Afghan Interpreters - Afghan locally employed staff who have qualified under ARAP have been relocated with their immediate family members, with over 2,000 children being evacuated by the UK as part of Operation Pitting. Furthermore, where people choose to marry or start a relationship after relocating to the UK, their partner can apply for a visa to come to the UK under the usual family immigration rules. Details of the consideration process for additional dependents has recently been published, and can be found here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uplo…
Afghan Contractors - The Government has made several important changes and enhancements to the eligibility criteria for ARAP to address particular concerns. For example, interpreters who supported military operations as contractors are now eligible for relocation and the Government will continue to conduct risk assessments of all former employees who claim to be at risk.
Still in Afghanistan - If you have friends or family still in Afghanistan who you believe are eligible for relocation under ARAP, the scheme continues to remain open and I would advise you consult this page: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/afghan-relocations-and-assis…
Those who have already applied can also contact the Ministry of Defence for further advice via this email address: email@example.com
To echo the words of the Prime Minister, I am proud to welcome Afghan interpreters and staff, who have risked their lives supporting our military efforts and seeking to secure new freedoms for their country, to our shores.
I am sure you agree that we owe a debt of gratitude to all those who have worked with our country to make Afghanistan a better place over the last 20 years. It is the case that many of these people, particularly women and children, are now in urgent need of help.
I am proud of the United Kingdom's history of welcoming those fleeing persecution and oppression. I know that the Government will always stand by those in the world in their hour of need.
It is therefore extremely encouraging that thousands of Afghan women, children and others most in need will be welcomed to the UK. The new Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme will be one of the most generous resettlement schemes in the history of the UK. This new route is modelled on the successful Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, which resettled 20,000 Syrian refugees over a seven-year period from 2014 to 2021.
Ministers have outlined that the new scheme will resettle 5,000 Afghan nationals in its first year with priority given to women and girls and religious and other minorities, who are most at risk of human rights abuses and dehumanising treatment by the Taliban. I understand that this resettlement scheme will be kept under further review for future years, with up to a total of 20,000 in the long-term.
I would like to reassure you that this new scheme is separate from, and in addition to, the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), which offers any current or former locally employed staff who are assessed to be under serious threat to life priority relocation to the UK. 5,000 former Afghan staff and their family members are expected to be relocated to the UK by the end of this year under ARAP.
Indefinite Leave to Remain: As you may be aware the Government previously announced that those coming to the UK through resettlement routes would receive immediate indefinite leave to remain. I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary has now announced that this will apply to Afghans who worked closely with the British military and UK Government in Afghanistan. This means they can now stay in the UK without any time restrictions. It is also the case that those already relocated to the UK under the Afghanistan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) will be able to apply free of charge to convert their temporary leave into indefinite leave.
I am particularly encouraged by this announced as it will give Afghans the certainty and stability to rebuild their lives with unrestricted rights to work and the option to apply for British citizenship in the future.
I also believe that international co-operation is essential in this area and therefore welcome the fact that the UK is working with international partners to develop a system to identify those most at risk and resettle them, ensuring help goes to those that need it.
I have added more detailed information about the Afghanistan Citizens' Resettlement Scheme and the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy below.
Pen Farthing and Nowzad: The safety of British Nationals, deployed military personnel, and Afghans who risked their lives working alongside the UK is the Government's immediate priority at this time. In recent days, the UK Government has implemented its contingency plans for evacuating British nationals and former staff in Afghanistan. 900 military personnel have been deployed to Kabul, alongside the Foreign Office Rapid Deployment Team – all of whom are working to support consular personnel and facilitate the safe passage of these persons out of Afghanistan. I commend these efforts and all involved.
I appreciate your particular concern for Pen Farthing, his Afghan staff, and the vulnerable animals in their care. I join the Prime Minister in commending the vital work that Nowzad does, and welcome his assurance to Parliament on 18 August that the Government is doing all it can to help Mr Farthing and others who facing similar difficulties. I understand that the Foreign Office has contacted Mr Farthing to see what support they can provide.
Be assured that I will be following developments in all these issues very closely.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP
Updated September 2021
HOME OFFICE FACTSHEET: Resettlement routes for Afghan nationals
The situation in Afghanistan is complex and changing rapidly and the Home Office is committed to providing protection for vulnerable people fleeing Afghanistan through several routes. We are also supporting the repatriation of British citizens and their family members.
Afghanistan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme
The UK Government’s new bespoke resettlement route for Afghan refugees
- Thousands of Afghans most in need, including women, girls and children who will be prioritised given their particular vulnerability, will be welcomed to the UK as the Government delivers one of its most ambitious resettlement schemes ever.
- The Afghanistan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme aims to welcome 5,000 Afghans in year one, with up to a total of 20,000 in the long-term.
- The Government is working urgently to open this route. Further details will be announced in due course.
- The route will be kept under constant review and will be operationally flexible given the increasingly difficult conditions on the ground in Afghanistan.
- The ambition to provide protection to thousands of people fleeing Afghanistan and the complex picture on the ground means there will be significant challenges delivering the scheme, but the Government is working at speed to address these obstacles.
- The people of Afghanistan need our support and the UK government stands ready to deliver for them.
Who will be eligible?
- The scheme will aim to resettle Afghan nationals most in need who have been forced to flee Afghanistan, including women, girls and children at risk given their particular vulnerability.
- Further details on eligibility are being developed at pace and will be shared in due course.
When will the route open?
- The Government is working urgently to open this route. The scheme is not yet open and further details will be announced in due course.
Can you provide any further details on how the scheme will be delivered?
- It is important that the Government fully work through the operational and delivery processes of the scheme, given the current complex picture in Afghanistan.
- Further details will be released in due course.
How many people are you taking?
- In its first year, the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme will welcome up to 5,000 vulnerable Afghans to the UK who have been forced to flee the country, with up to a total of 20,000 over a five-year period.
- This number is in addition to 5,000 Afghans we expect to relocate to the UK this year under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP).
What will the security checks be for applicants?
- This scheme will not compromise the vital security checks that are required to keep the UK safe. Every person coming to the UK as part of the resettlement scheme will be subject to the same strict security checks as those resettled through other schemes.
- The Government has a duty to protect the security of the UK and the safety of its citizens and it would be wrong to make a blanket offer of sanctuary to those who may have committed offences that would be crimes in the UK or pose a threat to our national security.
Will people who come to the UK via irregular migrant routes, such as small boats, be eligible to apply to the scheme?
- Eligibility for this route will be for those in the region who are in need of assistance, including women, girls and children at risk given their particular vulnerability.
- Those who arrive to the UK via irregular routes are currently able to apply for asylum.
- Under the Nationality and Borders Bill, it will become a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK illegally without permission to be here.
- Our position is still that people should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach and not risk their lives making dangerous crossings across the Channel. We want to deter people from placing themselves in the hands of evil people smuggling gangs and become trafficked. It is dangerous and unnecessary to attempt to enter the UK in this way. We are continuing to pursue the criminals behind these illegal crossings and our significant actions are having an impact. Our strengthened agreement with the French has increased police patrols on beaches, improved surveillance technology and enhanced intelligence sharing.
Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP)
- The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) launched on 1 April 2021.
- Under the policy, any current or former locally employed staff who are assessed to be under serious threat to life are offered priority relocation to the UK regardless of their employment status, rank or role, or length of time served.
- More details on the scheme can be found here.
- MOD can be contacted for advice at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How is the Afghanistan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme different from ARAP?
- The Afghanistan Citizen’s Resettlement Scheme aims to resettle Afghan nationals who have been displaced from their homes due to the current crisis and will prioritise women, girls, children and those most in need, who are likely to face human rights abuses and dehumanising treatment by the Taliban.
- The new route is separate from, and in addition to, the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), which offers any current or former locally employed staff who are assessed to be under serious threat to life priority relocation to the UK.
Support once people arrive
Is work taking place to ensure people resettled have the support they need once they arrive?
- The Government will work with stakeholders, including devolved administrations and local councils, to ensure that Afghans who will be rebuilding their lives in the UK have the support they need.
- All refugees in the UK have access to mainstream benefits and services to enable their integration, such as access to healthcare via the NHS and funding for English for Speakers of Other Languages through the Adult Education Budget (if they are unemployed and looking for work).
- All refugees have immediate and unrestricted access to the labour market.
- Unemployed refugees can receive employment support from the Department for Work and Pensions.
- As part of our New Plan for Immigration we are also developing a tailored, holistic package of support – such as language training, skills development and work placements – to help refugees re-build their lives here.
Other routes for Afghan nationals
Points-based immigration system
- The UK has welcomed Afghan nationals through the points-based system to work and study in the UK. Details on how many people have been welcomed through these routes can be found here.
- Visa nationals can apply for a visa from any country. Details on how to apply for a visa can be found
- We have also provided asylum to thousands of Afghan nationals in addition to current and former locally employed staff in Afghanistan.
British nationals and their family members
- The Home Office is supporting the urgent cross-Government effort to repatriate British citizens and their family members.
- This includes providing passports and emergency travel documents for individuals who have lost or do not hold documentation, such as the children of British citizens; and we are providing visa waivers to eligible citizens, such as family members of British nationals, to allow them to leave the country quickly.
- British nationals who have not already done so should call the FCDO global response centre on (+44) (0)207 008 5000 to discuss their departure plans.
- Requests for a visa waiver are passed from FCDO to Border Force to rapidly assess, and all cases are considered on their individual merits. This approach is in line with standard procedures for visa waivers in a crisis scenario, which can be issued to allow individuals into the country on compelling and compassionate grounds.