Hiding in his home in Kabul, Azfaar* is increasingly disheartened by unfulfilled promises from the UK Government to provide a safe and legal route for Afghanistan’s most vulnerable to come to Britain following the Taliban takeover.
“I meet the eligibility criteria for the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) on multiple grounds,” the 35-year-old father of two told i. “I have ties to the UK, am a member of an at-risk persecuted religious minority, and my wife is part of the at-risk women and girls category. It feels like ACRS stands for Afghans Cannot Resettle Scheme.”
Azfaar attended university in the UK from 2006 and then worked in Manchester until he decided to return to Afghanistan in July 2015 to support his family and contribute to Afghan society. When the Taliban took control in August 2021, Azfaar, his wife and their two sons went into hiding.
Days after the takeover, Azfaar applied for resettlement when the Home Office started accepting “Expression of Interest” for the scheme. Despite him having a British education, belonging to an ethnic minority (Hazaras), having a father who had worked for years for the UN, and not having a command of local languages, Azfaar’s application was rejected.
He is scared to leave his house because of his strong affiliation to the UK. “I cannot venture out and seek employment even if I wanted to because my whole existence – my way of life, values, lifestyle and education – are British,” he said. “I’m marked for life. I cannot lead a normal life anymore and don’t foresee any opportunities for me or my kids under Taliban rule.”
Azfaar and his family only venture out to buy groceries. The parents have taken their boys out of school due to security risks and are now homeschooling.
“We feel we are being held captives against our wills without any end in sight,” he said. “We are forced to live under captivity like criminals while the real criminals [the Taliban] are roaming freely. The last two years have been a living hell.”
As he can’t work, Azfaar relies on financial help from his siblings. “They spare a few hundred dollars every few months to keep us afloat,” he said.
Without the guarantee of resettlement from the UK Government, Azfaar wouldn’t dare try to escape Afghanistan. But hundreds of thousands have attempted to flee.
“I feel like the British Government is seriously not committed to helping us stranded allies, but rather pushing us towards criminal gangs to try and get to the UK via illegal routes,” he said, pointing out that the UK is becoming increasingly hostile towards refugees who arrive by irregular means. “Promoting safe and legal routes clearly only exists on paper.”
Azfaar feels he has been “systematically failed on all levels by the British Government”. While multigenerational ties to the UK have made him feel British, he says he has been “cruelly and unfairly rejected, forgotten and abandoned by the British Government”.
“We Afghan allies deserve the same respect, commitment and generosity that Ukrainians refugees got from the UK Government in 2022,” he added.
Before the ACRS, the UK Government created the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) to resettle current or former staff in Afghanistan who were employed by the UK Government.
When the ACRS was created, the Home Office stated its aim to resettle more than 5,000 people in the first year, and up to 20,000 in the following years. This scheme had wider criteria than the Arap and focused on women and children, as well as religious and other minorities in danger from the Taliban – people like Azfaar and his family.
In 2022, 4,629 Afghans were resettled under both schemes, but most were people who had worked for the UK before Kabul fell. Only 22 were accepted because they were vulnerable or at-risk refugees.
“Fundamentally the failings of the ACRS scheme to support arrivals of Afghan refugees since the final evacuation flight during Operation Pitting is, in my view, indicative of the broader context of anti-migrant, anti-refugee policies at the heart of this government,” Lou Calvey, a refugee and asylum specialist, told i. “Time and again we see them doing as little as possible to satisfy any humanitarian feelings within the broader public and as soon as the headlines move they revert to hostile positions.”
A Government spokesperson said: “The UK has made an ambitious and generous commitment to help at-risk people in Afghanistan and, so far, we have brought around 24,600 vulnerable people to safety, including thousands of people eligible for our Afghan resettlement schemes.
“We have a proud history of providing protection for those who genuinely need it through our safe and legal routes and have welcomed over a hundred thousand people from Ukraine and Hong Kong, and 9,113 Afghans under ACRS.”
Source : INews