Afghanistan: How many asylum seekers has the UK taken in?

By Rachel Schraer and Nicholas Barrett
BBC Reality Check

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Media caption, Chaotic scenes at Kabul airport as people try desperately to flee

In the lead-up to the withdrawal of US and UK forces, there were chaotic scenes at Kabul airport as desperate people tried to flee Afghanistan. How many have been evacuated to the UK and what will happen to them?

Afghan workers and interpreters

The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme, launched on 1 April, was designed to resettle interpreters and other people who worked for the UK in Afghanistan.

Afghans who worked for the British military and UK government will be able to move to the UK permanently, rather than getting five years' residency as was previously offered.

According to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab the UK has evacuated 17,000 people since the beginning of April. Of those, 15,000 were taken out between 15 August and the end of the month. The Home Office said 8,000 of those were ARAP claimants.

Just over 1,000 people have also been resettled in the UK since 2013 under a previous scheme called the Ex-Gratia Policy.

But not all who previously applied to the scheme were accepted, according to the Sulha Alliance, which campaigns for the rights of Afghan interpreters.

A 2018 Defence Committee report found: "British forces were supported by some 7,000 Afghans, known as locally employed (or engaged) civilians (LECs)."

How many are left?

Dominic Raab said that the number of British nationals remaining in Afghanistan was "in the low hundreds" but would not give a more precise figure.

He told a committee of MPs that nearly all the people in Afghanistan with single UK nationality and accompanying documentation have been brought back.

But it has proved harder to estimate the number of dual-nationality Britons remaining in Afghanistan. The example he provided was that some large families may have one or more people that were documented, but it was unclear what the status of the rest of the family was.

Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins told BBC News that the number of British nationals remaining included some, such as journalists, who were not trying to leave the country.

We do not know how many people in total might be trying to leave Afghanistan hoping to come to the UK but there have been some estimates.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy wrote a letter to Dominic Raab saying Labour MPs had been contacted by 5,000 people, "including British nationals, high profile public figures, people with serious disabilities and children separated from their families".

Resettlement schemes

In addition to ARAP, the government has said the Afghan Citizens' Resettlement Scheme will allow a total of 20,000 to settle in the UK in the long-term.

It will focus on women and children as well as religious and other minorities in greater danger from the Taliban.

Immigration lawyer Sarah Pinder said resettlement schemes were often too slow for crises such as the one unfolding in Afghanistan.

"The idea that people can queue up to make an application by staying put... in reality, it's difficult to put into practice," she said.

And their criteria were often narrow, leaving people "stuck in a loop" between different schemes.

One of Ms Pinder's clients, an Afghan interpreter, had his application refused under an earlier iteration of the schemes because he had already left Afghanistan - but he had fled the country only because working for the UK had left him in danger.

Image source, WAKIL KOHSAR

Zoe Gardner, policy lead at charity the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said resettlement schemes could be "life-changing" but must "only be a part of the system".

She too was critical of the government's focus on resettlement schemes over the usual routes of asylum which often involve people turning up unplanned.

"When people are fleeing persecution, it just happens in a messy way," she said. "People will be coming off their own steam. They won't be waiting in a non-existent queue."

Funding for councils

As part of what the government are calling Operation Warm Welcome £5m has been made available to local authorities to "provide a top up to help meet the costs of renting properties".

It is not clear how many councils have volunteered to accommodate refugees so far. Victoria Atkins, the Minister for Afghan Resettlement, told BBC Breakfast that "at least a third have given firm offers. We are very much in conversations with many, many more."

Under normal circumstance, a refugee's resettlement costs are paid to local authorities by central government. Local authorities are currently entitled to £20,520 per-refugee, staggered over five years with £8,520 paid up-front for the first year.

Seeking asylum

Outside a small number of official resettlement schemes, which generally have narrow criteria for eligibility, the main way to settle in the UK is to seek asylum once within the country's borders.

In 2020, 1,336 people from Afghanistan applied for asylum, out of 29,456 total applications from around the world, and 580 were granted it - not all of those granted asylum had applied in the same year.

As of 31 March 2021, there were 3,117 people from Afghanistan with an asylum application pending an initial decision and 70% of them (2,220) had been waiting for more than six months.

The government is yet to announce a policy for what should happen to these cases, although it has said failed applicants will not be returned.

Ms Pinder said they - and anyone from Afghanistan recently refused asylum - should now have their cases urgently reviewed.

Under international law, there is nothing to say people must seek asylum in the first safe country or arrive through official channels.

But the Nationality and Borders Bill currently before parliament would make knowingly arriving in the UK without permission a criminal offence.

A Home Office official said: "The numbers we resettle will be kept under review, particularly as we recover from Covid... focusing on those in need and will be guided by the capacity of local authorities, central government and community sponsor groups to provide places and support refugees to integrate into their communities and thrive."

Between 2008 and 2019, the UK deported 15,755 people to Afghanistan according to Eurostat, more than any other European country.