Tens of thousands of Afghans are still waiting to hear if they will be resettled in Britain 17 months after the Taliban takeover.
New figures from the Ministry of Defense (MoD) show that there are 71,149 applications pending processing under the Afghan relocation and aid policy (ARAP).
The program is designed for Afghan citizens working for or with the UK government in the country.
The latest wave of revenge attacks in Afghanistan has left many in even more fear for their lives.
Charities have warned that people helping implement UK-funded programs are falling through the cracks in government resettlement programmes. They say that Afghans, who have been waiting for months for a decision on their ARAB applications, are also in danger.
In response to a freedom of information (FOI) request, the MoD announced in November that its staff only looked at applications filed in January 2022, meaning that these applicants faced a delay of at least eight months.
Other FOI figures show that more than 127,000 applications have been received into the program since April 2021. An estimated 71,149 applications still need to be processed, but the majority of them are considered ineligible or duplicative, the MoD said.
Charity workers and former civil servants have warned that eligibility criteria are too restrictive, putting British aid workers in Afghanistan at risk of abandonment.
As of 21 December 2022, approximately 10,900 applicants, including family members, were found to be ineligible for ARAP and 2,780 were confirmed to be ineligible.
Approximately 4,300 additional persons (primary applicants and family members) are considered eligible for refuge in the UK under the programme. The MoD said more than 12,000 people were brought to the UK under ARAP.
A MoD spokesperson said: “Our priority, as set by the Ministers, is not only to process a number of applications, but also to find and relocate Afghans who meet the ARAB criteria through direct service with the British armed forces.
“There are less than 1,000 translators and other staff yet to be allocated space in the program. Our priority is to find them and bring individuals and their families to the UK.”
One person affected by the delays is a former DfID (Department for International Development) employee in Kabul. Fatima*, currently living in Dubai, applied for ARAB resettlement in June 2021, but her application was rejected because the Ministry of Defense incorrectly concluded she was a contractor and was therefore unqualified.
After further delay, in February 2022 his application was said to have been successful. However, ARAB visa is now paused while the British embassy awaits the Home Office’s approval.
Another person awaiting a response to the ARAP application was told by the Defense Ministry that the Taliban had to go to the State Department to get their children’s birth certificates and marriage certificate certified.
Zehrah Hassan, advocacy director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), denounced the backlog, saying “shameful ARAB figures show our government is slamming the door on vulnerable Afghans.”
“People who have risked their lives as translators, teachers and aid workers will now face the impossible choice of risking persecution in Afghanistan or making their own dangerous journey there and being criminalized,” he added.
“It is unacceptable that so many Afghans are piling up on applications for the ARAP program, leaving them hopelessly insecure in Afghanistan,” said Mark Davies, head of the Refugee Council’s campaign.
Conservative MP John Baron is urging the government to ensure that former British Council employees in Afghanistan and their families are taken to safety in the UK.
Told Independent The backlog seen in the ARAB plan is replicated in the Afghan nationals resettlement program (ACRS), which is the separate, broader route established for advocating UK values such as democracy, women’s rights and freedom of expression.
Some British Council employees were accepted under ARAP, but teachers contracted by the British Council were told they were unqualified despite being at equal risk of persecution. They were told to apply to the ACRS instead.
Joe Seaton, former deputy director of the British Council in Afghanistan, said there was “no consistency and explanation” for teachers’ rejection by the ARAP plan.
He said: “The fact that British Council administrators and clerical staff (with a small minority of teachers) receive ARAB approval while the vast majority of teachers receive ARAB refusal continues to confuse all teachers.
“All of the teachers met the original ARAB criteria when the program was first launched, but almost all were rejected.”
He urged the Foreign Affairs selection committee to investigate why “so fit and at-risk Afghan were excluded from ARAB criteria.”
There are issues that plague the alternative ACRS plan as well. Independent In December it revealed that only four people have been resettled on the second ACRS road so far in the UK.
Referring to the delays in the ARAB plan, Baron said: “There are backlogs in parallel with the ACRS. The good news is that in the last few weeks 47 [British Council contractors] They were told they could finally make their way to the border and pass into the relative safety of a third country until they were on their way to the UK.
“The bad news is that about 45 people are still waiting for this news, and about 100 people have heard nothing from the government since they completed their first application to the ACRS last summer.
“We will continue to campaign for the removal of bureaucratic blockades that delay contractors’ applications and prevent them from going to the police.”
Defense secretary James Heappey told parliament that as of November 2022, there were 327 main applicants for the ARAP plan who were confirmed as eligible to relocate to the UK and were still in Afghanistan.
*Fatima’s name changed