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Afghan resettlement schemes belatedly due to launch

Afghan resettlement schemes belatedly due to launch

Whilst many of us were focused on the Rwanda flight, injunction applications and subsequent appeals, the government on 13 June 2022 made some further announcements about the long-delayed Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme. The glacial pace of progress for the Afghan scheme might be contrasted by a cynic with the rapid progress of the Rwanda deal.

You can read the two new updates here: the first relates to ACRS in general and is an update to the page initially published on 6 January 2022 when the scheme was officially ‘opened’ and the second provides more information on Pathway 3 with its own ‘launch’ due on Monday 20 June 2022. 

As far as we can see, these two pages form the only guidance available so far for the scheme with no separate Home Office policy guidance being published so far (please do shout if am wrong about this).

Background

For general background on the ACRS you can access previous posts here. In short, the scheme consists of three ‘pathways’.

Pathway 1 is effectively a catch-all for those who were evacuated last August 2021 and who did not qualify for leave under the previous Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy but were allocated places under the new scheme.  It also catches those who had received a ‘call forward’ and/or been authorised for evacuation but who were not able to board any flights.  They had places reserved for them.

Pathway 2 is the referral route through UNHCR. No-one can apply as such under this route; people just have to live in a refugee camp and hope they get selected for resettlement.

Pathway 3 is the route that the government designed to offer a route to resettlement for those at risk who supported the UK and international community effort in Afghanistan, as well as those who are particularly vulnerable, such as women and girls at risk and members of minority groups. 

What is new on Pathway 2?

The new announcement effectively confirms that UNHCR referrals can now start under Pathway 2. The government is “now able to begin receiving referrals from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) of vulnerable refugees who have fled Afghanistan for resettlement to the UK.” 

We are also told that “UNHCR will refer individuals in accordance with their standard resettlement submission criteria, which are based on an assessment of protection needs and vulnerabilities.”  That’s it in terms of guidance for Pathway 2. 

There isn’t much else by way of guidance on the UNHCR’s side (see UNHCR UK website here) save for general confirmation that UNHCR offices in the region will only be involved with the referral of Afghan refugees, “who by definition are individuals outside of their country of origin, and who are deemed in need of resettlement.  (…) UNHCR will assess individual refugees’ protection needs in the country where they reside, and submit their cases for resettlement if it is deemed appropriate”.  As far as I can see, no numbers or any form of cap has been announced so far under Pathway 2 but the overall number under ACRS (and therefore with all three Pathways in mind) remains 20,000. A sizeable percentage of that total will already have been taken up already by those already evacuated under Operation Pitting.

What is new on Pathway 3?

Pathway 3 will be open on 20 June 2022 for three distinct groups to submit expressions of interest for relocation during the first year of ACRS’s operation: British Council and GardaWorld contractors and Chevening Alumni.  The government has also said after the first year of Pathway 3 (covered in more detail below), it “will work with international partners and NGOs to welcome wider groups of Afghans at risk.”

Making 1,500 places available for the first year, the government has now announced that it “will consider eligible, at-risk British Council and GardaWorld contractors and Chevening alumni for resettlement”, reiterating that the persons in these groups directly supported the UK and international community’s efforts in Afghanistan.  The numbers are to include the main applicants and their eligible family members (same as previously announced, i.e. spouse/partner, dependent children under 18 and some additional family members in exceptional circumstances).

The eligibility for each separate group has been set as follows:

To be eligible for consideration under the first year of Pathway 3 of the ACRS, you must meet one of these definitions:

British Council contractors

For the purposes of Pathway 3 of the ACRS, a British Council contractor is someone contracted directly to the British Council in Afghanistan to carry out duties in a way similar to an employee. This includes in particular individuals who were contracted to take on regular and public-facing roles, providing services or benefits to beneficiaries on behalf of the British Council, and who were therefore closely associated with delivering the UK government’s mission in Afghanistan. A British Council contractor does not include those contracted to provide professional services such as accounting, marketing, maintenance of office equipment, directly or via a third party, nor does it include those representing the British Council as a commercial agent, for example for the recruitment of examination candidates.

GardaWorld contractors

For the purposes of Pathway 3 of the ACRS a GardaWorld contractor is someone employed by GardaWorld on host country terms and conditions, for a period of 3 months or more after 1 July 2020, exclusively to support the British Embassy Kabul contract. GardaWorld contractor includes someone whose contract was terminated during or after March 2021 due to the reduction in the requirement for guarding the British Embassy in Kabul, and someone who, while engaged as part of the GardaWorld Regional Management Team, provided dedicated and material support to the British Embassy Kabul contract.

Chevening Alumni

For the purposes of Pathway 3 of the ACRS an Afghanistan Chevening Alumnus is someone awarded an Afghanistan Chevening Scholarship to study in the United Kingdom, and who completed their course of study under the terms of their Scholarship.

It is not clear at this stage if individuals will need to demonstrate whether and how they are “at risk” in addition to the set criteria or definitions above.  From the eligibility criteria, it would appear that they would not need to show this and that the risk to them is implied from their ‘status’ or ‘profile as either a British Council/GardaWorld contractor or Chevening Alumni, as defined above, but it remains to be seen how this will be interpreted.  It would nonetheless be advisable to raise any applicable risk factors and this may also assist in a case being prioritised for consideration, pursuant to the additional guidance that the government will prioritise cases depending on:

  • the role they performed (for GardaWorld contractors), or
  • the role they performed and the project you worked on (for British Council contractors), or
  • exceptionally compelling circumstances.

The government had previously announced that government departments would contact those eligible under the scheme. I think we all know how that turned out…  So now it has been announced that persons who may be eligible for consideration under Pathway 3 can submit an “expression of interest”, which will be considered by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. This procedure is set to open at 0830am (BST) on Monday 20 June 2022 and there will be an online form to complete.

The submitted forms will be processed in order of receipt (except if prioritised as mentioned above) and the “expression of interest” procedure will be available and open for a period of eight weeks, set to close at 11:59pm (BST) on Sunday 14 August 2022. 

The information provided in the completed form will be considered, as well as any relevant information provided by the British Council or GardaWorld relating to employment and role(s).  Data may therefore need to be shared with these relevant parties. For Chevening Alumni, checks may be carried out with relevant academic institutions by way of verification.  It would be advisable therefore for lawyers/former contractors/alumni to make contact, if they have not already done so, with previous relevant academic or other contacts/contractors to make them aware of probable contact from the government in relation to any expression of interest submitted.

Why so slow?

These three groups that will benefit in the first year under Pathway 3 will be relieved that there is some progress at last.  We are now more than six months on from the ‘official opening’ of the Afghan Citizen Resettlement Scheme on 6 January 2022, when these three groups were singled out.  But we are also nearly a year on from the scheme being rushed through as an announcement in reaction to the Taliban taking over and Operation Pitting coming to a close.

It will also be deeply disappointing to many, many others, who worked closely with and alongside the UK in Afghanistan in the legal and administrative sectors, in development and many other areas of civil society beyond the criteria for the first year, that they are seemingly being asked to wait until at least 2023, if not longer, in order to be considered as eligible under Pathway 3.

The government emphasises (again) that “the ACRS demonstrates the government’s New Plan for Immigration in action, to expand and strengthen our safe and legal routes to the UK for those in need of protection” – but is it ??  12 months to reach an “Expression of Interest” procedure for three named cohorts with no timescales announced thereafter. 12 months to announce that it is now “able to accept” UNHCR referrals. Meanwhile many Afghans evacuated to the UK are reported to remain in hotels.

Countless promises have been made to those who were not evacuated in August 2021 and to those who may be eligible under new schemes. We are yet to see these tangibly delivered. Yet in parallel, the government machinery went in full swing on the Rwanda Plan, within less than two months of signing the Memorandum of Understanding with Rwanda.

Sarah is a specialist immigration barrister at Goldsmith Chambers in London. She also practices in family law and has a particular interest in cross-over issues within the two areas of law. Prior to joining the Bar, Sarah worked for 6 years in the not-for-profit sector as a specialist immigration caseworker.