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Conservatives’ broken promise to Afghans leaves women and girls left at "back of the queue"

January 9, 2022 3:31 PM

Tim Farron (C&W Herald)The Liberal Democrats have slammed the Conservatives' broken promise to Afghans as a "total betrayal".

It comes after a statement from Home Office minister Victoria Atkins in Parliament revealed that women, girls, and religious and other minorities in Afghanistan have been put to the back of queue of the Government's resettlement scheme.

Commenting on the statement in the House of Commons, Liberal Democrats MP Tim Farron said:

"Back in August, this Government made a promise to women, girls, and religious and other minorities in Afghanistan - that they would be a priority under the new Afghan Citizen Resettlement Scheme. That was a promise of hope to these people, at a time when they are living in fear from the Taliban because of their identity.

"Now, the Conservatives have not only broken that promise - they've effectively told these Afghans that they're at the back of the queue.

"This represents a total betrayal of people in grave danger. The Ministers responsible for this callous decision - which will cost lives - should hang their heads in shame. The UK has a proud history of providing sanctuary to those in need. We need to show that same leadership and compassion now."

The Afghan Citizen Resettlement Scheme was originally announced in August following the fall of Kabul. At the time, the Government promised that women, girls and religious and other minorities at risk would be a priority for resettlement.

In a statement to the House of Commons on Thursday 6 January on the launch of the scheme, Home Office minister Victoria Atkins did launch the Scheme, announcing 3 pathways for potential resettlement: one for those already in the UK; one via the UNHCR for those who have fled Afghanistan; and a specific pathway for those in Afghanistan who are at risk.

However, Atkins announced strict criteria for the third pathway - ruling out resettlement of vulnerable women, children and minorities in Afghanistan in the first year of the Scheme's operation. This means in effect, women, children and minorities still in Afghanistan have been prevented from applying to the UK resettlement scheme for months to come.

The original Government announcement of the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), dated August 18 states:

"Priority will be given to women and girls, and religious and other minorities, who are most at risk of human rights abuses and dehumanising treatment by the Taliban."

In her statement to the House of Commons on Thursday 6 January 2022, Minister Atkins stated:

"The third referral pathway will resettle those at risk who supported the UK and international community effort in Afghanistan, as well as those who are particularly vulnerable such as women and girls at risk and members of minority groups.

"In the first year of this third referral pathway, the Government will honour our commitments and offer ACRS places to the most at risk British Council and GardaWorld contractors, and Chevening alumni. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will be in touch with those eligible to support them through the next steps of this process.

"Beyond the first year of the ACRS, we will work with international partners and NGOs to design and deliver this unprecedented third referral pathway further - this will allow us to welcome wider groups of Afghans at risk beyond Year One."

Atkins established two other pathways - one for, "those already evacuated and in the UK" and another via the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for "refugees in need of resettlement who have fled Afghanistan".