Thousands of Afghan asylum seekers in UK ‘in limbo’ a month after Taliban takeover

·4-min read
The government launched ‘Operation Warm Welcome’ for Afghans now arriving in the UK, but others have been waiting for years for asylum decisions  (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
The government launched ‘Operation Warm Welcome’ for Afghans now arriving in the UK, but others have been waiting for years for asylum decisions (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

More than 3,000 Afghan asylum seekers in the UK are in “limbo” as a freeze on processing applications continues a month after the Taliban takeover.

The Home Office deleted official guidance that its officials use to decide on applications on 16 August, saying it was “no longer relevant to the current situation”.

Until that date, documents said there was no general “risk of harm” in Afghanistan and the “proportion of the population affected by indiscriminate violence is small”.

The guidance has not yet been replaced and the consideration of at least 3,213 asylum applications by Afghans who have reached the UK has been paused as a result.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said: “In the month since Kabul fell to the Taliban we have seen the extraordinary efforts of our armed forces and embassy staff to evacuate people.

“However, in the same period ministers have stood by and left those from Afghanistan already in the asylum system in a state of limbo not knowing what their future holds. The government needs to set out its plans on this urgently.”

The government has paused deportations to Afghanistan and started a new resettlement scheme for up to 20,000 people over several years and started “Operation Warm Welcome” for new arrivals and those evacuated from the country.

But it has not committed to granting refugee status to all Afghan asylum seekers who are already in the UK - many of whom have been waiting months or years for a decision - and said that when decision-making restarts it will be on their “individual merits”.

Tim Naor Hilton, the chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “Far from a warm welcome, the treatment of Afghan refugees stuck in our asylum system is a cold, hard slap in the face.

“Waiting times for decisions on asylum claims are already at record levels, so unnecessary delays issuing country guidance simply compounds the misery of people who simply want to rebuild their lives here.

“Ministers need to understand that how you arrive in the UK should not determine how much humanity you’re shown.”

It comes as the government continues to press ahead with a suite of laws that would criminalise all refugees arriving in the UK without official permission, such as on boats over the English Channel.

Bella Sankey, the director of Detention Action, said: “There is no reason to pause Afghan asylum processing but every reason to speed it up and ensure all Afghans in the UK receive leave to remain.

“Anyone who has read a newspaper in the past month can see that the UK cannot safely return anybody to the country while the Taliban continue their murderous rule. Leaving Afghans in limbo fuels insecurity, self-harm and suicide attempts and trashes the UK's proud record of providing sanctuary to those who face persecution and death.”

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said the government was “shirking their responsibility” by leaving thousands of Afghans in limbo.

Campaigns director Minnie Rahman said: “There is no feasible way that people can safely return to Afghanistan for the indefinite future, and many have already spent months, even years, unable to work and with the threat of removal hanging over them.

“The only logical step is to grant them protection in the UK now, so they can start to rebuild their lives.”

Several MPs called for action on Afghans trapped inside the UK’s asylum system in a parliamentary debate on Monday, where Scottish National Party MP Stuart McDonald asked if the government “really needs [official] guidance to tell us that people from Afghanistan should be recognised as refugees”.

Victoria Atkins, a Home Office minister responsible for Afghan resettlement, said new guidance would be “published shortly”.

“There is no change in the UK’s position that people can only claim asylum from within the UK,” she added.

“There are a number of claims already in the asylum system, and they will be considered in line with new country guidance.”

No date has been given for its publication, but the Home Office said updated documents would reflect revised assessments of the risk of persecution in Afghanistan.

A spokesperson added: “No one who is at risk of persecution or serious harm in Afghanistan will be expected to return there and all asylum and human rights claims, including those from Afghan nationals, will be carefully considered on their individual merits.”

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