I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that I co-chair and run the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security, and set up and run the Afghan Women’s Support Forum.
Operation Pitting was the largest UK military evacuation since the Second World War. About 15,000 people were evacuated to the United Kingdom. Since then, a further 6,000 people, including those under ACRS pathway 1, have arrived via neighbouring countries. The Home Office is working to assure information on its caseworking systems. This includes reporting on total volumes by gender. Once this work concludes, the Home Office will include all Afghan resettlement statistics, including gender breakdown, in its quarterly immigration statistics publications, the next of which is due on 23 February.
I thank my noble friend for his Answer, but I am disappointed that he cannot give me specifics on the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. I gather that there is no application process for this and the slow speed, lack of communication and transparency creates a feeling of abandonment for the Afghan people. How are eligible people identified for this scheme? Under pathway 3, there is provision for those who are particularly vulnerable; I am talking about the women and girls at risk. Does my noble friend realise that some vulnerable women who either held significant positions or were related to those who did have been on the run and hiding since the Taliban took over? Can he imagine what it feels like to be hunted down in this way? We have only to remember the murder of the ex-Afghan MP Mursal Nabizada a few weeks ago. What steps are His Majesty’s Government taking to ensure that those women human rights defenders are able to access the ACRS? How many do they hope to accept this year?
I agree with much of what my noble friend says. By way of context, the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme was divided into three pathways, to which she alluded, the first of which concerned those evacuated during Operation Pitting and those on the removals list. Pathway 2 is the principal method; it concerns referrals from the UNHCR. Pathway 3 is administered by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. That is the pathway envisaged for Chevening scholars, GardaWorld employees and those who work for the British Council. I understand that the Foreign Office has received some 11,500 expressions of interest that are being worked through at the moment. In relation to her question on vulnerable women and children, I say that the principal focus of the ACRS has been to protect the vulnerable. Since the events in Afghanistan last August, thousands of women and girls have been brought to safety in the UK, including female judges, women’s rights activists and a girls’ football team. Of course, in pathway 2 the UNHCR makes referrals based on an assessment of protection needs, including vulnerabilities.
My Lords, at the end of December there were an estimated 150 Afghan interpreters still in Afghanistan, eligible but unprocessed under either the ACRS or ARAP. Given that many of them would already have been eligible under the previous ex-gratia scheme or the intimidation policy designed primarily for interpreters, can the Minister commit to fast-tracking these cases for a group of individuals to whom the UK owes an incalculable debt of gratitude, and who remain extremely vulnerable to Taliban threats and violence?
I entirely understand the point the noble Baroness makes. Obviously, those who were employed by the British Government are entitled to be relocated under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy. The Ministry of Defence is working with the Home Office in relation to the assistance provided for those people. I am happy to look further into the 150 people whom she indicates. I hope that I might be able to obtain some further details and then look into that for her.
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, I am disappointed that the Minister was not able to give us any meaningful statistics today, beyond a figure of 6,000 people. I have had conversations with the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, who has spoken to the officers of the APPG on Afghan Women and Girls. Would it be possible for the Minister to undertake for similar meetings to be held with the Home Office, ideally on a cross-party basis, and with DLUHC? Many of the issues about bringing in women and girls, and indeed British Council contractors, link to visas and the provision of accommodation. However hard the FCDO and the MoD are working, those departments cannot deal with these issues alone. Will he agree to a meeting?
Pathway 3 applications, as I have said, are led by the FCDO and its engagement will be the principal point of contact. Of course the Home Office works closely with the FCDO and will continue to do so. I will keep the question of a meeting under review and, if it becomes necessary, certainly.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that our intervention in Afghanistan directly led to the strengthening of the hands of extremists in the Taliban, causing huge difficulties for ordinary Afghan citizens, and that we have a linked moral responsibility to look to the well-being of those who we have caused to be refugees? Does he also agree that if we wish to reduce the flow of immigrants that has worried so many people, we should be much more careful in thinking first about embarking on such interventions?
I fear that this is not the correct place for me to discuss the causation of the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan. But in relation to the point the noble Lord raises about the United Kingdom’s obligation to those who helped UK forces and staff, diplomatic and otherwise, during our period in Afghanistan, then I agree. That is something which the two Afghan schemes are designed to address.
My Lords, some people put the amount of Afghan refugees in Pakistan at up to half a million, some of whom are extremely vulnerable, particularly young women, former judges and former politicians. They live under a constant threat of being returned to Afghanistan, where they would certainly meet with jail or possibly worse. What conversations have the Government had with the Government of Pakistan to lift this threat of being returned to Afghanistan?
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, reminds us, in discussing the Afghanistan resettlement scheme and the help we rightly give to some, we should never forget the continuing persecution of women and girls across the world. Of the three pathways under the Afghan scheme we are accepting at-risk people from three groups: British Council, GardaWorld and Chevening alumni. Within this, is it only those who worked for the UK who are considered, or is any other priority given to women and girls?
As I hoped to make clear in an earlier answer, the first pathway relates to those removed during August 2021 and those who should have been removed. The second pathway relates to those referred by the UNHCR to us, and the third pathway contains the three categories that the noble Lord just identified. The short answer to the question is no, it is not just people who worked for the United Kingdom Government in various forms; it is broader than that because the UNHCR refers refugees to us who have applied.