Lawyer claims families granted places under system introduced in August are not being made aware of how long they will stay in the UK
The number of Afghan women and children who have been granted places in the UK under a government scheme designed to resettle people fleeing the civil war is declining, with some cases so secretive that lawyers say families have not been made aware how long they will stay in the country.
The refugee resettlement programme, introduced earlier this year, gives about £1,700 to each asylum seeker who has been granted refugee status in the UK.
Legal sources have told the Guardian that the government has less than 50 families in the scheme, including people assessed for direct from Afghanistan by the Department for International Development and who had hoped to get places on the government scheme.
“There are cases where the people we have are lucky to be invited and there are other cases where they have been given places under the Afghan relocation scheme but they are not told how long they will be in the UK,” said one UK lawyer.
Another asylum seeker who applied to enter under the resettlement scheme and has decided to stay in the UK told the Guardian that her husband, three children and extended family had made their own way to the UK.
She said her husband’s family was under “secret” orders that meant they had not been told where they would be resettled. “They will be in for three months or one year. We have to accept that and this is what I am telling my children, to accept that what the government says is going to happen,” she said.
‘When we left, life was already hard’: Afghans without work or family return to war zone Read more
Celestino Durán, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe, said that the Afghan resettlement scheme was “virtually invisible” to those it was designed to help.
“It’s shocking that the government is spending vast sums of taxpayers’ money sending asylum seekers and their families to a country already gripped by extreme violence where the rule of law and basic human rights are nowhere to be found,” he said.
Under the resettlement scheme, and a similar one for persecuted people from Iraq, non-profit agencies have been able to resettle any adult or child in the UK with no resettlement applications having to be made. This has made the schemes exempt from the rules on forced returns.
Under the scheme, London’s family court can quickly grant a family asylum for up to two years.
Another couple who originally applied under the Iraqi resettlement scheme have found themselves able to apply for family reunification in the UK.
“We are not at liberty to discuss where we’ve been placed but we are considered safe. When we arrived [in the UK] none of our belongings were left behind and one of my children said it was like we’d never been in the country before,” said one of the couple.
Mohammed Atiya, an Afghan who had been working in London and had been welcomed with open arms in the UK, said: “There were families in prison [in Afghanistan] and people were beaten or stabbed with knives and raped on the way out of the war. This is something I know must change. People need to be safer in their own homes and that is what it is about. This country has the power to bring these people to safety.”
However, Guy Walter, from the human rights charity Liberty, said the Afghan resettlement scheme was a “waste of money”.
“The resettlement scheme is supposed to break the cycle of war and suffering. The fact that it is barely working tells us how ineffective the programme is and how exposed vulnerable families in Afghanistan are,” he said.
A Home Office spokesman said: “The UK government’s Department for International Development is one of the first line of defence against discrimination in Afghanistan, providing targeted funding and other support to enhance the country’s reconstruction and transition to democracy.”