Priti Patel has claimed the UK cannot accommodate 20,000 Afghan refugees “all in one go”, as critics rounded on the government’s new resettlement scheme – which is set to offer sanctuary to just 5,000 vulnerable people in its first year.
Unveiled last night, the government said the scheme aims to provide refuge to 20,000 Afghans fleeing the Taliban in the “long term”.
Ministers have suggested the effort is modelled on the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, which saw Britain take in 20,000 Syrian refugees between 2014 and 2021.
But opposition parties have lashed out at the “vague” promise to aid 20,000 Afghans, claiming the figure should be the government’s immediate target.
David Davis, the former Conservative cabinet minister, added that the UK should be seeking to take in “north of 50,000” vulnerable people stuck in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
‘All in one go’
Speaking on Sky News on Wednesday morning, Patel – the home secretary – said: “We have to think very carefully about the practicalities.
“Importantly with the new humanitarian route we are announcing today, we have to ensure that we, clearly, have all the support structures across the United Kingdom.
“We will be working with local councils around the country, with the devolved governments as well, to ensure that we can support those people. This isn’t just about bringing people over, this is about resettlement.”
Asked why the government wasn’t doing more in the short-term, Patel said: “Primarily because we cannot accommodate 20,000 all in one go.”
#KayBurley – If we don't bring these people here quickly they might not be alive… so why not 20,000 people all at once?— Haggis_UK ?? ?? (@Haggis_UK) August 18, 2021
Priti Patel – "We cannot accommodate 20,000 people all in one go." pic.twitter.com/oJDGn0cYBn
She declined to reveal when the first refugees would arrive in the UK under the scheme, saying she was “not going to give a date”.
Patel was pressed on whether Afghanistan citizens feeing the country and arriving by boat would be treated different. “This isn’t about being criminalised if they’ve come over from Afghanistan,” she said.
“They will claim asylum in the way in which people who enter our system are currently claiming asylum, but I have to say when it comes to people coming from Afghanistan, I think it’s important to separate what is going on in Afghanistan — we are making big changes.
“We would obviously tell people not to come through illegal means.
“It also means they are travelling through many safe countries — irregular migration doesn’t just manifest in the UK, people are travelling through Europe countries, they can claim asylum in European countries, in safe countries”.
‘Kicked into the long grass’
Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow home secretary, welcomed that a scheme was in place but said there needed to be a “more urgent plan of action”.
He said: “This proposal does not meet the scale of the challenge. Not only does that risk leaving people in Afghanistan in deadly danger, it will also undermine the leadership role Britain must play in persuading international partners to live up to their responsibilities.”
Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for foreign affairs, said: “We need these vulnerable people out of the country as soon as possible, instead of the government’s vague promise of the ‘long-term’.
“The government have kicked this into the long grass when Afghans need help now, today. 20,000 should be the starting point of this scheme, not the target.”