A DEDICATED scheme for those fleeing Afghanistan will help them avoid the pitfalls of the UK’s asylum system, a Welsh charity working with asylum seekers has said. 

Some 20,000 Afghans are to be welcomed to the UK in coming years as the UK Government unveiled the details of a scheme to provide sanctuary for those most at risk of persecution by the Taliban. 

Details were announced late last night ahead of the recall of Parliament today when MPs will debate the situation in the country after the capital Kabul fell to the Taliban militants on Sunday. 

Boris Johnson has promised that up to 5,000 Afghans can find refuge in the UK this year, with up to 20,000 in the longer term. 

The Prime Minister, who is to address MPs later on the crisis, said: “We owe a debt of gratitude to all those who have worked with us to make Afghanistan a better place over the last 20 years. 

“Many of them, particularly women, are now in urgent need of our help. I am proud that the UK has been able to put in place this route to help them and their families live safely in the UK.” 

The Welsh Refugee Council said a scheme, similar to one introduced to support Syrian refugees in 2015 – which also promised sanctuary to 5,000 people a year for five years – would mean those fleeing the chaos in Afghanistan will be granted refugee status as soon as they enter the UK. 

“They would be recognised as refugees when they come to the UK, where the normal route is to have to claim asylum,” said Althea Collymore, communications manager for the Welsh Refugee Council. 

“People coming from a managed route won’t have to negotiate the treacherous asylum system.” 

She said the UK Government should also provide reassurance for Afghans already in the UK who have had their claims for asylum rejected. 

The United Nations Convention on Refugees gives everyone the right to claim asylum. In the UK refugee status is awarded if the government is satisfied an asylum seeker is fleeing danger, such as persecution or war, or their life could be in danger in their homeland. 

Ms Collymore said the UK had considered Afghanistan a safe country for people to return to but said that should now be reconsidered.  

The Irish government has said Afghan nationals in the republic who have received deportation orders can request that they be revoked. 

“The Home Office may want to revisit decisions where people have been rejected for support,” said Ms Collymore. 

“They can’t really send people back. But if the Taliban continue to show signs of trying to appease people, and seem like they are trying to be understanding, like one of their leaders allowing himself to be interviewed on television by a woman, it may be the Home Office might say Afghanistan is doing well now and there is no war.” 

READ MORE: Afghanistan veteran fears for country and his brothers in arms

At present those from Afghanistan who have their asylum claims rejected can face ‘destitution’ - a status that provides limited support and usually with no recourse to public funds - an immigration status that also applies asylum seekers – which denies, or limits, any access to benefits such as housing assistance. 

From October 2020 to March this year the Welsh Refuge Council, which supports most asylum seekers in Wales, said 29 Afghans it assisted had been granted refugee status which put the country at fourth place of the country’s of origin those most assisted come from, behind Iran, Eretria and Iraq. 

“They will be indefinite destitution,” said Ms Collymore of Afghans whose applications were unsuccessful: “until just before the Taliban campaign started the Home Office were saying Afghanistan was a safe place to go back to.” 

Asylum seekers are provided with a card, from the Home Office, pre-loaded with £39.60 a week to meet their living costs which are likely to include phone calls and for women sanitary products and they will often be housed in shared accommodation, with other asylum seekers, who they may not know. They are also banned from working in the UK. 

READ MORE: 'We need an emergency Senedd response to Afghan conflict'

Though an initial decision on an asylum claim is supposed to be made within six months Ms Collymore said some people can be in the system for as long as 10 years and she knowns one woman who has been waiting four years for an initial decision. 

The new Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme will target women, children, and others who have been forced to flee their home or face threats of persecution from the Taliban. 

And the Government said this was in addition to the 5,000 Afghans already expected to move to the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy. 

It is intended to establish safe and legal routes for those who need to leave Afghanistan. 

The Welsh Refugee Council said all asylum seekers should be entitled to safe and legal routes to make a claim Ms Collymore criticised the UK Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill, which recently passed its second reading in Parliament, which will criminalise those who make an “unauthorised” entry to the UK. 

You can read more about opposition to that bill here

There is also concern among Afghans already in the UK for their families who remain in their home country. 

“There are a lot of people from Afghanistan who are worried about their families and are waiting on decisions from the UK government about whether they will let their families join them,” said Ms Collymore. 

You can read about Afghan interpreter Mohamad whose wife has not been allowed to join him in Wales because of a dispute over paperwork here

Ministers have said they will keep the Afghanistan scheme under review in coming years, and will work with devolved nations and local councils to deliver support for those fleeing to the UK. 

First Minister Mark Drakeford yesterday tweeted his ambition for Wales to be a ‘nation of sanctuary’ which will support those who’ve had to leave Afghanistan. 

He tweeted from his official @fmwales  account: “We want Wales to be a Nation of Sanctuary and we'll do everything we can to support evacuations from Afghanistan. We're working with the Home Office and councils on preparations to support those who need it.  

“Please call @CALL_247 - 0800132737 if you're affected by these events.” 

 

Yesterday the Welsh Governmnet said it was working with local councils to support UK efforts to house those fleeing Afghanistan. 

Of the 22 local authorities in Wales 17 had confirmed to BBC Wales they intended to support the government’s existing scheme, aimed at those who’ve supported UK forces, and had pledged a total of 24 houses between them, including 10 by Wrexham council. 

Labour’s shadow home secretary, Torfaen MP Nick Thomas-Symonds, had yesterday called for the UK Government to set up a further support scheme, which it announced last night. 

Cynon Valley Labour MP Beth Winter also signed a statement by the Socialist Campaign Group, of left wing Labour MPs, which called for the British government to “take a lead” in offering a refugee programme and work with the United Nations “on reperations to rebuild Afghanistan”. It also called for further military intervention to be ruled out and said the UK Government should stop any deportations to Afghanistan. 

The statement was endorsed by former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who is currently suspended from the main Labour group. 

 

A vigil for Afghan refugees is to take place outside the Cardiff office of the Home Office, on Newport Road, at 6pm today. Organisers are calling for “safe, open routes for Afghan refugees”, a stop on deportations to Afghanistan and an “immediate, unconditional amnesty for asylum seekers already in the UK”. 

It will follow a separate protest, at the same location, at 1pm over an asylum seeker and mother of three who faces eviction from her home. 

What support is available for asylum seekers in Wales? 

The Welsh Refugee Council works with six other organisations and charities, that receive some funding from the Welsh Government, to provide community support to asylum seekers and refugees. 

Immigration policies – which determine who is entitled to come to the UK - are decided by  Westminster and the UK Government controlled Home Office also determines asylum applications. But the Welsh Government supports an initiative called Nation of Sanctuary which seeks to ensure a welcome and provide some support to those seeking asylum. 

But Ms Collymore said it’s important people understand that isn’t an approach that determines immigration or asylum policy, which is outside the control of the Welsh Government: “Wales is described as a welcoming nation and the Welsh Government and some towns support the Nation of Sanctuary plan.  

“All they are saying is when people are here they should be welcomed and should be looked after. It’s not a project where we say come to Wales, but we say when you are sent here by the UK Government you will be looked after. We want Wales to be a welcoming and safe place.” 

Smaller community charities also support the Nation of Sanctuary initiative. 

The Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees group was established in 2015 amid concern at the loss of life of mainly Syrian asylum seekers attempting to cross the Mediterranean sea. 

It offered practicial support to those in refugee camps in Calais and those seeking asylum in Cardiff, Swansea and Newport where the UK Government provides accommodation and sends asylum seekers. 

The volunteer run charity also provides days out in the Brecon Beacons for groups of refugees and asylum seekers. 

Ailsa Dunn secretary of the group, which works with other charities across Wales, said: “Our days out are a chance for people to get together in friendly surroundings and to appreciate that we have so much in common.  

“We all want the best for our families and friends and we all enjoy meeting different people and socially distanced meetings now outside still give us the opportunity to spread a little joy. 

“For people coming to meet us and share hospitality it may be the first time that they have really felt welcomed.  

“The pandemic has been a bit of a challenge to our old way of working so we have mainly concentrated on doing things from afar like phone top ups and ensuring people have enough money for food.” 

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