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Afghanistan Citizen Resettlement Scheme, part 1: How has the Government responded to the crisis in Afghanistan?

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After the Taliban took control of Kabul and the majority of Afghanistan, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP announced a scheme to resettle Afghanistan citizens in the United Kingdom. This scheme is yet to open but Afghan citizens are already arriving in the UK as part of other resettlement schemes. This blog sets out the policy context of resettlement schemes in the United Kingdom, and the Scottish Government’s response to the announcement of the upcoming resettlement scheme.

The United Nations (UN) World Food Programme warned on 25 October 2021 that Afghanistan is on track to becoming the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The UN advised that the continuing droughts, food insecurity, poverty, and escalating displacement of Afghans amidst the ongoing conflict had all “the hallmarks of a humanitarian crisis”. UNICEF have raised concerns about the impact of the conditions in Afghanistan on women and children.

What is resettlement?

The UK is a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the supporting 1967 Protocol. This convention defines who a refugee is, the rights of individuals that are granted asylum, and the responsibilities of the nations that grant asylum. The United Nations’ Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, defines the formal process of resettlement as:

“the selection and transfer of refugees from a State in which they have sought protection to a third State that has agreed to admit them ‐ as refugees ‐ with permanent residence status.”

Asylum and immigration are reserved matters. The UK Home Office consider applications for recognition as a refugee and applications for resettlement. On the other hand, the implementation of resettlement schemes often overlaps considerably with devolved policy areas such as housing, education, and health. In Scotland, resettlement schemes are usually managed by local authorities.

The most recent evacuations and resettlements from Afghanistan by the UK Government have taken place via:

These schemes oversee the resettlement of Afghanistan citizens who were contracted by the UK Government and locally employed in Afghanistan. When entry clearance is granted via these resettlement schemes, participating local authorities are responsible for providing a 12-month integration support package and assisting in the process of obtaining school places, registering with the health service, and obtaining National Insurance numbers.

The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, Angus Robertson MSP, provided detail on the involvement of Scottish local authorities in the UK Government resettlement schemes for staff locally employed in Afghanistan on 2 September 2021:

“Before June 2021, five Scottish local authorities had already welcomed nearly 400 people under the Afghan locally employed staff scheme, since 2014. From the point when arrivals were stepped up in late June 2021, until the end of August, a further 43 families—around 160 individuals—arrived in Scotland across eight local authority areas. A further 20 families, comprising approximately 70 individuals, are expected to arrive in the first weeks of this month. Scottish local authorities have offered a further 40 properties thus far—we are at a very early stage—which are ready to be matched to 40 more families who have recently arrived in the UK.”

Afghanistan Citizen Resettlement Scheme (ACRS)

On 18 August 2021, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP announced the introduction of a new bespoke resettlement scheme called the Afghanistan Citizen Resettlement Scheme (ACRS). This scheme is yet to open, and many details of the scheme have not been released. However, the UK Government have indicated that the scheme will operate in addition to the ARAP scheme.

The focus of the scheme is to resettle Afghan nationals and their immediate families who remain in Afghanistan or the surrounding region. Those resettled through the ACRS scheme will have indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK and be able to apply for British citizenship after five years. The new ACRS scheme will also work in conjunction with the UNHCR to identify people in need, and prioritise:

“those who have assisted the UK efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for values such as democracy, women’s rights, freedom of speech, and rule of law

vulnerable people, including women and girls at risk, and members of minority groups at risk (including ethnic and religious minorities and LGBT+).”

The UK Government’s current commitments are to resettle 20,000 people over the course of the scheme, and approximately 5,000 people in the first year. There is so far no indication from the UK Government of when the scheme will open, the length of time the scheme will be in operation for, or the resettlement targets beyond the scheme’s first year of operation. The Scottish Refugee Council has assessed that Scotland should expect to welcome between 5,000 and 8,000 refugees over the next five years.

The UK Government also announced additional funding for local authorities across the UK who take part in the ACRS or ARAP schemes:

  • £20,520 per person, over three years for resettlement and integration costs.
  • Local councils and health partners to receive up to £4,500 per child for education, £850 for English language provision, and £2,600 for healthcare.
  • £20 million of flexible funding to support local authorities with higher cost bases with additional costs in the provision of services.
  • Afghan Housing Costs Fund to increase from £5 million to £17 million and run for two extra years.

The latest updates on the scheme can be found within the Afghanistan Citizen Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) guidance. Further information on the eligibility and prioritisation criteria for the scheme can be found in this Home Office Fact Sheet.

Scottish Government response to Afghanistan resettlement schemes

The Scottish Government committed £250,000 in urgent aid through the £1 million annual Humanitarian Emergency Fund (HEF) to support the humanitarian response in Afghanistan on 2 September 2021. In addition, the Scottish Parliament held a Scottish Government debate, “Supporting the People of Afghanistan” on 2 September 2021. During this debate, the Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture set out the Scottish Government’s intention to work with partner organisations such as COSLA, the Home Office and local authorities on the implementation of resettlement schemes in Scotland. The First Minister reiterated the Scottish Government’s action on humanitarian aid and reaffirmed its support for resettlement of Afghans at First Minister’s Questions on 28 October 2021.

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government, Shona Robison MSP, provided an update to the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee on 14 September 2021:

“Afghan families are already being welcomed into Scottish communities through the Afghan locally employed staff relocation scheme and, so far, 22 local authorities have expressed a keenness to support the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. We have been pushing the UK Government for more information on that.”

While many details on the opening and operation of the ACRS scheme are still to come, it is likely that Scottish local authorities will play a significant role accommodating and integrating Afghan citizens resettled in Scotland. The role of local authorities in previous resettlement schemes and the support provided by the Scottish Government is discussed in an upcoming SPICe blog.

Courtney Aitken, SPICe Research