Scotland prepares to welcome refugees amid Westminster quota row

All 32 council areas in Scotland are preparing to welcome Afghan refugees, the Scottish Government has confirmed, amid a row over the number of people from the country who will be brought to the UK through a new resettlement scheme.

Stand Up to Racism and the Afghan Human Rights Foundation stage a protest outside the Home Office in Westminster, central London.
Stand Up to Racism and the Afghan Human Rights Foundation stage a protest outside the Home Office in Westminster, central London.

Westminster yesterday confirmed the official launch of the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) - which it said will take in 20,000 refugees, including more than 5,000 people during its first year.

However charities raised concerns the UK Government was including numbers of those who were evacuated from Kabul along with British forces in August, warning it would leave thousands of people still at risk of harm in Afghanistan. It also emerged some of the people counted as part of the quota will be relatives of UK nationals who are already in Britain – rather than vulnerable groups in the country.

The Scottish Refugee Council said it was also concerned about the strict criteria people needed to meet to apply for the scheme. The UK Government has said it would prioritise those who assisted UK efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for values such as democracy, women’s rights, freedom of speech and the rule of law – as well as at-risk women, girls, and members of minority groups, such as those who identify as LGBTQ.

Wafa Shaheen, head of integration at Scottish Refugee Council, said: “A lot of questions about this scheme still need to be answered. In particular, why is the UK government including people who are already in the UK in this “new” target of resettling people from Afghanistan? And why do people have to wait until the spring to be eligible for the scheme when people are in danger and in need right now? There has already been a lot of delay and confusion around this scheme since it was first discussed last September. People in life and death situations, and the organisations that support them, need clarity and we have all been calling for this for months.

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“Of course any additional means of providing safety for people is always welcome. But programmes like this need to be clear and all the detail transparent, particularly around the numbers of people the scheme will support, eligibility criteria and timescales.”

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The design and operation of UK refugee resettlement programmes are reserved to the UK Government and handled by the Home Office.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We welcome the opening of the new Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme in addition to the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy. All 32 of Scotland’s local authorities have confirmed their commitment to participate in the schemes.

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“As of 17 December, 94 families (390 individuals) have been relocated to 19 Scottish Local Authorities under the relocation scheme for locally employed staff."

He added: “Once local authorities have identified suitable accommodation and service capacity in their area the Home Office match people/families who have been accepted for resettlement and relocation to the local authority places offered.

“We continue to engage with the UK Government to ensure that property offers already made by local authorities can be matched with Afghan families as soon as possible.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK is taking a leading role in the international response to supporting at-risk Afghan citizens and has made one of the largest commitments to resettlement of any country. The ACRS will provide up to 20,000 Afghan women, children and others at risk with a safe and legal route to resettle in the UK.

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“We undertook the biggest and fastest emergency evacuation in recent history, helping over 15,000 people at risk to safety in the UK, including thousands of women and girls. We have been clear from the outset that some of these will be resettled under the ACRS, a scheme designed to protect those who are vulnerable and at-risk.”

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