In August 2021, the UK government promised ‘to do right by Afghans’. Almost a year later, Afghans without safe passage to the UK are the largest national group of asylum seekers arriving on small boats. More than 1,000 arrived in the UK between January and March 2022, strong evidence of insufficient safe and legal routes available to them. On 9 June, Defence Minister James Heappey revealed that, of the 3,226 applications received under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Programme (ARAP) since the beginning of April this year, decisions have been issued in just two cases. Apparently less than nine per cent of applications for ARAP have been approved since October. This indicates there are currently 1,300 people in Afghanistan who are eligible for resettlement – potentially in danger of persecution – being forced to wait while the government clears the backlog.
BBC Newsnight reported recently that more than 150 men who formerly worked at the British Embassy in Afghanistan have not yet been given sanctuary in the UK and have been tortured by the Taliban. In these circumstances, to label Afghan refugees as criminal, threaten them with six months to four years in jail, or send them forcibly to Rwanda, is a complete betrayal of that August 2021 promise. And, in fact, eight Afghans were due to be on the first flight to Rwanda.