As a crisis unfolds in Ukraine, the UK government’s response to people fleeing their homes is once again under scrutiny. They’re under pressure – the limited changes they have made to visa rules for people from Ukraine have been called “woefully inadequate” and “shameful”. At the same time, groups – including 1,000 faith leaders – urge the government to reconsider the Nationality and Borders Bill, back in the House of Lords today. The stories of people fleeing Ukraine, who would be criminalised under the Bill if they made their way to the UK, expose the cruelty of the government’s plans and the inadequacy of their promises.

It is also a time to reflect on the UK’s response to another crisis. It’s been 6 months since the fall of Kabul. Last August, the Taliban took power in Afghanistan and life for many people there became unliveable. People in Afghanistan feared for their lives and their human rights. Those with family in Afghanistan feared for their wellbeing and those who had already claimed asylum in the UK wondered what it meant for their claim. Six months later, very little has changed for them.

The people who were evacuated from Afghanistan at the time were given 6 months’ temporary leave to remain in the UK with the promise of indefinite leave. GMIAU staff are regularly getting calls from people who were evacuated from Afghanistan 6 months ago, whose leave is about to expire. This includes adults, families and unaccompanied children. Some of those people have been accommodated in hotels, while others may be living with family. They have been told not to worry, and that the Home Office will contact them with details for acquiring the indefinite leave to remain they have been promised. However many people are now at the point of their 6 months’ leave expiring with no information on what happens next.

Kamel’s story
(name has been changed)

Kamel is 14. He came to the UK in August 2021, having been evacuated by the UK authorities. His family was at risk from the Taliban because his father had worked for the EU. But he was separated from his parents in a bomb blast at the airport. Kamel was injured; he feared his parents had been killed. He later found out that they are alive but in hiding in Afghanistan, while Kamel is living with a foster carer in Greater Manchester.

When he arrived in the UK, Kamel was given a handwritten slip of paper confirming that he had been granted leave to enter for 6 months, expiring on the 1st of March 2022. He has not been advised about extending his leave or getting Indefinite Leave to Remain. This means that – despite general reassurances by the government – he will be without status from tomorrow and subject to the Hostile Environment. Unsurprisingly, he’s feeling anxious and distressed. Our lawyers are doing everything they can to secure his status. But this situation – a young person, alone in the UK, who the government has already classed as vulnerable in deciding to evacuate, left with no assurance or security as to his future – should never have happened.

Yet again, people are left in limbo while the government fails to live up to their promises. It’s a situation many of us would find unimaginable: fleeing your country and the life you’ve known, being promised safety and then being stuck in a hotel room for 6 months with no security for the future or opportunity to start building your life. Voluntary sector colleagues have stepped in where support from the Home Office has been inadequate to try to ensure people are safe, supported, and accessing services such as healthcare, and education for children.

What about those still in Afghanistan? The government has promised to resettle thousands more people than those included in the initial evacuation through the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme. The Scheme opened officially in January 2022, but to our knowledge is not yet functioning. It’s not a scheme that can be applied to – instead the Home Office says that people eligible will be contacted – so nothing has changed for those waiting to hear when they can get to safety.

The strict Refugee Family Reunion rules have not been expanded and we are still hearing from many people with leave to remain in the UK, or with British citizenship, who are separated from family, unable to bring them to the UK and safety. The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) Scheme, another policy we’re told should help people, is too narrow for most, and limited to those who furthered the UK’s military and national security objectives

When so many are stuck waiting for the government to help them, they are increasingly likely to make their own way to the UK out of desperation. Fleeing Afghanistan or Ukraine and travelling to the UK outside of a government resettlement scheme will soon be criminalised under the Nationality and Borders Bill. The Bill is an attack on the right to seek asylum in the UK and will directly endanger those most in need of protection, including from the Taliban.

Six months after Kabul fell, it’s clear that the government have let down the people to whom they promised a “warm welcome”. Along with the situation in Ukraine, the need is clearer than ever for a fair and humane system which welcomes people in need with safe accommodation, timely decisions, the right to work and the right to be with family. Keep up the pressure by asking your MP to oppose the Nationality and Borders Bill, to press the government to commit to resettle more people in need, and to ask ministers what’s happening to people evacuated from Afghanistan.