THOUSANDS of Afghans, who worked for British forces before the Taliban takeover, have been stranded in Pakistan as UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wanted to cut costs associated with their relocation, UK media has reported.
According to documents submitted in a UK court, PM Sunak had instructed government departments only to relocate Afghans if an accommodation, other than hotels, was arranged for them, BBC reported.
This was done to cut the cost incurred on housing migrants in the hotels, according to the report.
The UK government introduced two schemes to resettle Afghans in the country. The first is the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) — for Afghans who worked directly with British forces and their families — and the second is the Afghan Citizen Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) for those who worked in British-run civil schemes or are in vulnerable minority groups, according to BBC.
UK court told PM wanted to save money spent on hotel accommodation
However, most who qualified for the schemes have been left in limbo in Pakistan as the UK stopped issuing visas. According to The Independent, around 2,300 Afghans, who worked alongside British armed forces, have been stuck in hotels in Islamabad for months after being asked to find a home to live in Britain before relocation.
Two Afghans, eligible for the relocation, have filed a case against the UK government in a UK court. They claimed their promised resettlement was delayed due to Mr Sunak’s decision in November 2022.
Tom de la Mare KC, representing the refugees, told the court that PM Sunak halted the use of hotels for Afghans coming to the UK in late November 2022 to save money, The Independent reported.
The decision prompted the Ministry of Defence to stop flights bringing people to the UK from Pakistan — leaving families stranded at risk of deportation back to Afghanistan.
The lawyer claimed his clients feared arrests by Pakistan police and could not leave their hotel in Islamabad.
The lawyers for the UK government said the accommodation in Pakistan was “not ideal” but “adequate”, that those on the scheme had access to case workers and that there was “no legal obligation” for the government to provide education in this situation, BBC reported.
After Pakistan gave an ultimatum to all illegal foreign nationals to leave by November 1, the UK government increased the pace of relocation. Since October 2, 59 people have been brought to the UK, with 470 more expected to be relocated by the month’s end, The Independent reported.
However, around 1,900 would still remain in Pakistan after November 1, the plaintiffs’ lawyer told the court, according to The Independent.
A UK government spokesperson told BBC that they continued to honour the commitments to bring eligible Afghans to the UK.
The statement added that the government will arrange and pay for their travel “when suitable accommodation in the UK has been secured”.
“The UK has so far brought around 24,600 people to safety, including thousands of people eligible for our Afghan resettlement schemes,” BBC quoted the spokesperson as saying.
Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2023