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Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme

Volume 704: debated on Monday 22 November 2021

Through the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, the UK will relocate up to 20,000 at-risk people in the coming years. We are working urgently across Government and with partners such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to design the scheme. We continue to support the thousands of people successfully evacuated from Afghanistan under Operation Pitting, and we will continue to support those who come under the scheme when it opens.

It is now almost exactly three months since Operation Pitting came to an end. My constituent continues to update me on the situation facing her brother, who is in hiding in Afghanistan with his wife, mother and three small children. Since the evacuation ended, they have lost an uncle and a cousin, both murdered by the Taliban, and they have received numerous threatening messages. They live in daily fear for their lives, yet the Government will not issue papers to give them the best chance of safe passage to the UK via a third country. Does the Minister have any regret that we are three months on and the scheme has not yet opened? When will she give some hope to people in such desperate circumstances as my constituent’s family?

The hon. Lady has articulated the real dangers that many are facing in Afghanistan; I think we can all agree on that. The reality is, however, that the ever-changing security situation in Afghanistan means that we still have no UK consular presence or Army presence there. That is something that we and other countries around the world that are trying to help Afghan people are having to grapple with. We are working at pace and we want to set the scheme up as an example of a safe and legal route under the Government’s new plan for immigration.

Since mid-August, Germany, a country that has not had the military and overall engagement of the UK in Afghanistan, has flown more than 6,000 Afghans to Germany and provided them with protected status under its humanitarian admission programme. Can the Minister tell me what conversations she has had with counterparts in the European countries running such schemes to help to enable the quicker opening of the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme? There is a real risk that the people whom the scheme is intended to help will die before it becomes operational.

I know the hon. Gentleman well, and I know that he will not have overlooked the 15,000 people whom we evacuated during the emergency conditions of Operation Pitting. Of course, there are still agreements carrying on with third-party countries for evacuating people—where it is safe to do so, where checks have been conducted and so on—each and every week. Not only do we have the ACRS in the process of being built, but we are meeting our commitment to those who have worked with the UK Government and the UK Army under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy, so work is ongoing to protect people. We are working with international partners; indeed, I met the German delegation during the Conservative party conference to discuss with them the work the Germans are doing. However, we are very much in the hands of our international partners when it comes to opening up safe and legal routes through Afghanistan to us.