Garden Court Chambers is delighted to be hosting the launch of JUSTICE's report.
Sonali Naik KC of the Garden Court Immigration and Public Law Teams, and Chair of the JUSTICE Committee, wrote the foreword to the report.
Today, JUSTICE launched a landmark report ‘Reforming the Afghanistan Resettlement Schemes: the way forward for ARAP and ACRS'. This marks the two-year anniversary of the fall of Kabul and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, marking the end of British Operations in the country.
The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (“ACRS”) and the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (“ARAP”) were both designed to help Afghan citizens whose lives are now at risk due to having worked in support of the UK during its presence in Afghanistan.
Yet, JUSTICE found that neither scheme is working as it should. Despite promises to help Afghans relocate, there remain significant delays, lack of transparency, and lack of consistency to Government decision-making. This has resulted in a lack of clarity about how the schemes operate, a convoluted application process with significant implications for the subsequent relocation. This includes the need to travel to third countries, such as Pakistan, for biometrics and visas, which often incurs significant risk to the lives of applicants.
The Government have so far received 141,000 applications for ARAP but just over 12,300 individuals have arrived in the UK. There are approximately 2,417 eligible individuals and their families still in third countries yet to be relocated.
A further concern by the working group is the cap of 20,000 for ACRS, which is far lower that the UK’s international counterparts such as Canada, which has committed to resettling 40,000 Afghans. Of those who have applied, 9,059 places have been allocated but only 40 individuals have been relocated under ACRS pathway 2 (referrals from the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees), and 14 under ACRS pathway 3 (British Council contractors, GardaWorld contractors and Chevening alumni).
The report makes 24 recommendations to the Government which include proposed changes to improve the accessibility and efficacy of the schemes designed to relocate Afghans at risk from the Taliban.
Recommendations in the report include:
- Reducing delays: Processing times should be improved and clear timelines provided. Government departments should also set out what the next steps will be and acknowledge when there are problems, such as delays, in the system.
- Improving consistency in decision-making: The Government should ensure there is consistent interpretation of the criteria, with a clear understanding of the breadth of the application, the criteria and the discretion open to decision-makers. There must be greater clarity and detail in decision letters which set out the grounds on which applications are refused.
- Clarifying how the schemes work: The Home Office must clarify the way it calculates the limit of the number of individuals who can qualify for ACRS, the internal processes used by referral partners, and the criteria and/or method of assessment by which those, whom have already been determined as eligible, are determined as being of ‘priority’.
- Improving communication with individuals: the Government must provide regular, formalised processes for communication with applicants, and ensure there is clear communication regarding individual cases within government departments, reflecting the urgency and high levels of risk. Primary caseworkers should be assigned to provide a direct line of communication and to provide updates on applications.
- Enhancing transparency through published data: All relevant departments, should publish more detailed and specific data on the Afghan Schemes.
- Reviewing the Unsafe Journey’s Policy: The Home Office should revise the Unsafe Journey Policy, which sets out the standard of proof applicants must meet in their application and consider a lower threshold for unsafe journeys.
- Reviewing the Biometric Policy: The Home Office should revise its policy on the submission of biometrics, including further discretion and flexibility, clarity as to the specific process for applicants under ACRS and ARAP biometric waivers, and consideration of whether Ministerial approval should be needed for excusing an applicant from biometrics.
- Expediting relocation times: The relocation of eligible and ‘suitable’ Afghans waiting to leave Afghanistan should be prioritised, expedited, and improved.
JUSTICE Chief Executive, Fiona Rutherford said:
“Immediate action is required to help Afghans who have put their lives and the lives of their family on the line for Britain and deserve to be quickly relocated to safety. The recommendations in this report have been developed by experts who have firsthand experience of the impact of delays to applicants and their families. I urge the Government to act quickly to honour its commitment to relocate Afghans at risk.”
Chair of the Working Group Sonali Naik KC said:
“Two years on since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 is an important time to reflect on the impact of the Afghan Settlement Schemes set up to honour the contribution of those Afghans who worked alongside and supported the UK mission there for 20 years. Despite recognising those who have been able to be relocated to the UK, this report makes 24 recommendations to improve the schemes for those whose lives continue to be at risk. This is clearly the right thing to do.”
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. JUSTICE is a cross-party law reform and human rights organisation working to strengthen the justice system in the United Kingdom. For more information, please visit the JUSTICE website.
2. The working group was made of lawyers, academics, activists, and community organisations. The working group was chaired by Sonali Naik KC (Garden Court Chambers), and its members were Erin Alcock (Lawyer, Leigh Day); Zoe Bantleman (Legal Director, ILPA); Daniel Carey, (Partner, Deighton, Pierce and Glynn); Olivia Clarke (Senior Associate, DLA Piper); Emma Daykin (One Pump Court); Dr Sara De Jong (Senior Lecturer Politics, University of York & Co-Founder of the Sulha Alliance CIO); Laure-Hèléne Piron (UK Afghanistan Diplomacy and Development Alliance, and Director, The Policy Practice); Rafi Hottak (Lead Interpreter, Formerly British Council); Sarah Magill (Managing Director and Founder, Azadi Charity); Joe Tomlinson (University of York).
3. Two years ago, when the Taliban took hold of Kabul, a number of at-risk Afghans were evacuated from Afghanistan. The last plane left on 28 August 2021 marking the end of British military operations in Afghanistan. For Afghan civilians and staff, who assisted the British over a period of two decades but were not able to be evacuated during ‘Operation Pitting’, they were placed at particular risk of violence from the Taliban and their own route for escape was through the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) which had been designed to provide a safe, expeditious route for Afghans who assisted the UK Government to leave Afghanistan and resettle in the UK.
4. In January 2022, the Home Office established a second scheme, the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (“ACRS”), which was intended to assist a broader cohort of Afghans, including those who “stood up for democracy, women’s rights, freedom of speech, and rule of law”, vulnerable people, including women and girls, members of minority groups and the LGBT[QIA+] community. The Government capped admission numbers under this scheme at 20,000 individuals, which includes family members and Afghans already evacuated during Operation Pitting, among them, vulnerable groups.
5. The full report can be found here.
6. The report was supported by The Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Dechert LLP.
7. Please direct queries to Maddy Breen, Engagement and Communications Executive at email@example.com