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Afghanistan: what can refugees do now that UK evacuation is over?

Afghanistan: what can refugees do now that UK evacuation is over?

While the UK’s formal evacuation of its own nationals and Afghans seen as eligible to be taken out has ended, there is confusion over how many more people could have been taken – and what their options are now.

How did the UK decide who to take?

There are three categories: UK nationals and their dependants; people who qualified under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap); and the newer Afghanistan citizens’ resettlement scheme.

Arap, which began in April, is specifically aimed at Afghan nationals who worked for UK forces or other parts of the UK presence in the country. The eligibility for this has at times been contentious. For example, 125 Afghan guards who protected the British embassy in Kabul were initially turned down as they were hired through an outsourced contractor, although this decision was reversed.

With the resettlement scheme, more details are expected this week, particularly about who could qualify, but the plan is to particularly welcome those whose welfare would be seen as being at risk under the Taliban, such as women and girls.

How many have left and how many potentially remain?

Close to 15,000 people in all were evacuated from Kabul’s airport since mid-August, when it became clear the Taliban were likely to take over Afghanistan before the withdrawal of US and other overseas military forces. The bulk of these were Afghan nationals. Just before the airlift ended, the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, said 13,000 Afghans had been removed during August, with another 3,000 taken out from April, when the Arap scheme started.

Wallace has given a figure of between 800 and 1,100 Arap applicants still in Afghanistan, but it is widely believed that many more potentially eligible Afghans are still there, as well as an unknown number of UK nationals. Estimated total vary, but figures provided to the Guardian by MPs suggest at least 7,000 eligible or potentially eligible people remain.

What family members are permitted to come?

This is somewhat complicated. The explanation page for the Arap scheme says that the details for which family members can be brought in with eligible people “are set out in the Immigration Rules (HC 395)”. HC 395 is the formal title for the overall UK immigration rules, first set out in 1994 and running to nearly 90 pages. Years of updates and amendments have hugely expanded this, with some estimates putting the total at nearer 1,000 pages.

Asked for more detail, the Home Office pointed to a section of the rules about leave to enter the UK for “relevant Afghan citizens”, which limits dependants to a spouse or partner, and children aged under 18.

Where can people go now the airlift is over?

It is unclear. The only advice so far is that they should try to cross into a neighbouring country and reach one of the “processing hubs” the UK will set up.

However, much depends on whether the Taliban are amenable to more people leaving. Without official acquiescence, reaching a border, let alone crossing it, is likely to be a difficult, risky and expensive business. Ministers in the UK have also not given up on the idea of the Taliban allowing more people to leave by air from Kabul, although this remains deeply uncertain.


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