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UK to welcome 20,000 Afghans amid Taliban takeover

Afghan people sit along the tarmac as they wait to leave the Kabul airport


Thousands of Afghan refugees will be resettled in the UK after the Taliban seized control of Kabul, the UK government has promised.

The new scheme will see up to 20,000 Afghans offered a route to set up home in the UK in the coming years.

In the first year, 5,000 refugees will be eligible – with women, girls and others in need having priority.

The plan is on top of the existing scheme for interpreters and other staff who worked for the UK.

Some 5,000 Afghans and family members are expected to benefit from that policy.

Parliament has been recalled and Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to open a debate in the House of Commons about the situation in Afghanistan from 09:30 BST on Wednesday.

Downing Street said Mr Johnson spoke to US President Joe Biden on Tuesday evening about the evacuation of Kabul.

The leaders “resolved to continue working closely together on this in the days and weeks ahead to allow as many people as possible to leave the country,” a spokesperson said.

“The prime minister stressed the importance of not losing the gains made in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, of protecting ourselves against any emerging threat from terrorism, and of continuing to support the people of Afghanistan.”

Ministers have been rushing to put this scheme together

Ministers have been rushing to put this scheme together in response to the situation in Afghanistan, with the final details signed off on Tuesday.

The scheme will prioritise those most in need – with the government highlighting women and girls and minority groups.

Information on how to apply is expected soon.

The scheme is loosely based on the one introduced during the Syrian war, which also saw 20,000 move to the UK from 2014 to 2021.

But ministers acknowledge the practicalities of getting people out of Afghanistan will be considerably more complicated because of the extent of Taliban control.

Government insiders don’t know the extent to which the new regime will allow people to flee if they so choose.

There will be funding for the resettlement programme – and the government will work with local councils and devolved governments on where to house Afghans who come to the UK.

Announcing the new Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme, Mr Johnson said: “We owe a debt of gratitude to all those who have worked with us to make Afghanistan a better place over the last twenty 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.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the UK government would “always stand by those in the world in their hour of need when fleeing persecution or oppression”.

“Our country has a proud history of offering sanctuary to those in need,” she said.

“We will not abandon people who have been forced to flee their homes and are now living in terror of what might come next.”

The government emphasised the new scheme would “not compromise on national security” and has promised all those arriving will have to pass “strict security checks”.

“I’m so worried about my parents and my sisters’ safety”
A separate route for Afghan nationals to resettle in the UK, the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), already offers the chance to live in the UK to Afghan staff who worked for the UK government in frontline roles.

Some 5,000 staff – including interpreters – and their families will come to the UK via that scheme this year. Nearly 2,000 have arrived since 22 June.

The government says that, since Saturday, 520 British nationals, diplomats and former Afghan staff have left Afghanistan on UK flights. The Foreign Office has advised all remaining UK nationals to leave the country.

Among those trying to flee Taliban rule is a former employee of the British Council in Afghanistan, who fears he may face retaliation for working on behalf of the UK.

The man – whom the BBC is not naming to protect his safety – told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One he had applied to a government relocation scheme more than a month ago, but had yet to be accepted.

“Talibans are going around our home, going everywhere and I have already received some notifications, some warnings from them,” he said.

“I have cried a lot. I do not cry because I lost my salary or my other things, but I cry for my family. I have three daughters and one wife and I have no one else to support them.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds it was “right we have a scheme in place to help them rebuild their lives here”.

But he added: “The government’s incompetence in failing to plan for this has left huge numbers of Afghans’ lives in danger today, especially those who served alongside the British and women and girls.

“After such catastrophic errors, the government must step up with a more urgent plan of action.”

The Lib Dems said there was “no time to waste” and that ministers should get “vulnerable people out of the country as soon as possible”.The party’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Layla Moran said that “20,000 should be the starting point of this scheme, not the target”.

The SNP said there should be an “ambitious” resettlement programme to allow 35,000 or more Afghan refugees to be given asylum.

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