The government has refused an asylum amnesty for more than 3,000 Afghans who have already reached the UK and are awaiting decisions on their claims.
Critics have accused ministers of leaving them in a “nightmarish limbo”, while pledging to support people fleeing the country through a separate resettlement scheme.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour's shadow home secretary, said: “It is staggering that the Home Office have still not updated their guidance over two weeks after they withdrew it leaving thousands of Afghans stuck in our asylum system in limbo.
“The government need to – urgently – outline why there has been that delay and what they are going to do to rectify it – there cannot be continuing uncertainty for those Afghans stuck in the asylum system.”
Until 16 August, the day after the Taliban seized control of Kabul, official security guidance used by officials said there was no general “risk of harm” in Afghanistan and the “proportion of the population affected by indiscriminate violence is small”.
It meant that asylum seekers had to prove that they were personally at risk through their “individual circumstances”, because the general security situation was not considered dangerous enough to grant them protection in Britain.
Several MPs have joined calls by humanitarian groups for an amnesty for those who are already in the UK, but the government confirmed its refusal on Friday.
“While it is not considered that an amnesty is appropriate, the Home Office can provide reassurance that no one who is at risk of persecution or serious harm in Afghanistan will be expected to return there,” a Home Office spokesperson said.
“Given the complex situation in Afghanistan, enforced returns of those who have been refused asylum and who have exhausted all rights of appeal are currently paused while we consider the situation.”
Official figures show that by the end of June, there were 3,064 Afghan asylum applications awaiting an initial decision and a further 149 under review. The vast majority had already been waiting for more than six months.
The Home Office has not yet replaced the country policy and information notes used to decide cases, which it said was “no longer relevant to the current situation”.
It is drawing up new guidance that will incorporate revised assessments on security and the risk of persecution.
When processing restarts, each one will still be considered on its “individual merits”, despite the deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan giving rise to questions over how and when it could be safe to return people there.
The government has repeatedly said it will send asylum seekers who enter the UK irregularly back to European countries such as France that they passed through on their way to Britain.
However, no agreements have been struck with EU countries to allow returns and several nations have told The Independent they would not sign one.
The government has also been accused of misleading migrants with a website that claims to offer them “reliable information” but concealed its government links, until they were exposed by The Independent.
Ministers are pushing ahead with laws that would criminalise all asylum seekers who cross the English Channel on small boats, or arrive without official permission.
Campaigners have called for ministers to scrap the Nationality and Borders Bill, which would also make it easier to jail migrants for steering boats.
The Independent has launched a petition urging the UK government to be more ambitious in its plans to take in Afghan refugees following the Taliban seizing power and withdrawal of western troops. Afghans are now facing a similar plight. You, our readers, have already shown your strength of feeling in letters and on social media. Here’s a chance to have your voice heard by adding your signature. We thank you for your support. To sign the petition click here