Claiming Asylum In The UK As An Afghan: Is It Possible?
The UK government recently announced two schemes in place to support Afghan citizens. These are the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, otherwise known as ARAP, and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, otherwise known as ACRS.
The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ASAP) offers relocation and assistance to previously Locally Employed Staff in the country.
However, there are four primary routes via which Afghans who have been displaced can end up living in the UK, but the ARAP and ACRS schemes are the primary schemes and are viewed as UK government-permitted safe and legal routes to asylum.
ACRS is the UK scheme that aims to resettle Afghan nationals. From January 2022 to June 2023, the UK saw 10,000 people arrive via this scheme. ACRS has specific eligibility criteria that the asylum system specifies for an applicant to be considered eligible.
Since the fall of Kabul, there has been an increase in the number of Afghans who claim asylum in the UK and arrive in the country by irregular means, including arriving by boat. From January 2018 until June 2023, 12,599 Afghan citizens crossed the Channel, and of these, 11,689 made an asylum claim.
However, of all the routes available for Afghan citizens to claim asylum, 14,700 Afghan citizens claimed asylum in the UK from January 2022 until June 2023. However, only 4,900 Afghans were resettled in the UK via ARAP, ACRS, and other generalised UK resettlement schemes. Therefore, in this time frame, asylum was the most common route to protection in the UK.
Alternatively, data published by the UK government shows that by June 30th, 2023, an average of 21,500 people had obtained settlement from one of the two primary schemes available for individuals from Afghanistan. These are the ARAP and ACRS schemes.
As of June 30, 2023, 11,474 Afghan citizens entered the UK via the ARAP scheme, and 9,676 entered via the ACRS Pathway 1. Of all these individuals, 70% of them arrived in the Kabul evacuation programme.
This means that while it is complex for Afghans to obtain protection in the UK, it is very possible, and there are routes available. One of the options is the UK asylum system, although there are resettlement schemes available.
The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) is one of the primary resettlement schemes available to Afghan refugees. This scheme was launched at the beginning of 2022, aiming to resettle 20,000 people in the UK. By June 30th, 2023, 10,000 people had arrived in the UK via this scheme.
There are three referral pathways for this scheme, each of which has distinctive eligibility criteria and processes. Pathway 1 grants long-term immigration status to those who enter the UK this way. Pathway 2 is for Afghan refugees in countries neighbouring Afghanistan who are referred to this Pathway by the UN Refugee Agency.
The third pathway is for those who are at risk and are currently in Afghanistan or countries neighbouring Afghanistan. At its primary stage, this route had eligibility restricted to GardaWorld, British Council Contractors, and Chevening Alumni. However, in autumn 2023, the UK government confirmed this route was now open to all eligible applicants in the first phase.
Referrals And Eligibility Criteria
ACRS provides a route to safety for those who are put at risk by recent events in Afghanistan. The route prioritises certain individuals for the schemes:
- Individuals who have assisted the UK’s efforts in Afghanistan and have stood up for values such as democracy, freedom of speech, women’s rights, and the rule of law.
- Vulnerable people, including girls and women who are at risk, minority groups, such as ethnic or religious minorities, as well as LGBTQIA+ individuals.
This scheme anticipates that there are bound to be more people who wish to travel to the UK via this scheme than there are places available. This is why there is a strict approach, and the UK government works alongside partners to resettle Afghans in the UK. No formal application is owned by the Home Office for ARCS routes either.
This means that instead, eligible people are prioritised and referred for this in one of three specific ways.
- Some arriving in the UK via the Afghanistan evacuation programme, including those at risk, are settled under ACRS. Those notified by the UK government that they have been called for or authorised for evacuation but cannot board a flight or do not have left in a safe country would enter via this route.
- The second route is where the government works with UNHCR (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to identify and resettle refugees impacted by events in Afghanistan. This replicates the approach that the UK took in response to the Syrian conflict. UNHCR is an expert in the field and refers refugees based on assessments of the protection required. This includes women and girls at risk, ethnic and religious minorities, as well as LGBTQIA+ minority groups.
- The third route works with international partners and NGOs in the area to bring about a referral process for those in Afghanistan, where safe passage can be arranged. This route is in place to ensure the UK protects members of Afghan civil society that support the UK and other international community efforts in the country. This could include women’s rights and human rights activists, prosecutors, and so forth.
Eligibility For ACRS
ACRS has a focus on those impacted by the events in Afghanistan who are located in the country or surrounding regions. A majority of those resettled this way will be Afghans, but nationals of other countries who may have mixed nationalities are also considered eligible.
Likewise, the partners, spouses, and dependent children below 18 years of age of eligible persons will be eligible. In some extreme cases, other family members will also be eligible.
Unaccompanied children may get resettlement where it is believed that resettlement in the UK is in their best interests and they are believed to be eligible. However, this decision will be made alongside expert partners. This is often the case when a child is unaccompanied. It may be best for them to stay in the region for a better chance of a family reunion.
All eligible for this will receive security screening as part of the process. This includes security, database checks, and biometrics. Those who have committed any crimes, such as crimes against humanity, war crimes, terrorism, and so forth, will not be considered eligible.
Those who resettle via ACRS will get indefinite leave to remain or enter the UK, as well as the right to work and immediate access to benefits if required. However, they will also be expected to comply with laws in the UK.
Family Members of Settled Persons
Those who obtain resettlement in the UK or who obtain British citizenship may be able to have their family members join them in the UK. This only applies to immediate family members, such as dependent children or spouses.
To aid in the travel of family members of those who were evacuated as a part of the Operation PITTING scheme, the Home Office removed visa requirements and granted limited permission for these individuals to stay out of the Immigration Rules in the UK for 6 months.
Yet, considering the exceptional circumstances upon their arrival and to ensure they understood their status of immigration, the UK government granted ILR (indefinite leave to remain) to them.
Those who were not informed that they were eligible for evacuation under Op PITTING or those not offered resettlement via ACRS will need to apply to travel to the UK under current family migration rules or economic rules.
Where this is the case, these family members will need to meet the eligibility requirements, fees, and biometric requirements of the route that they take.
What Are The Rights Of Resettled Afghan Citizens?
Afghan citizens who enter the UK via a UK resettlement scheme such as ACRS will obtain indefinite leave to remain in the country, and after 5 years in the UK, they can apply for UK citizenship under existing rules.
As a settled individual or UK citizen, these individuals will have the same rights as all UK citizens as granted by the British government. This means these people can:
- Work in the UK.
- Study in the UK.
- Use the UK NHS.
- Claim benefits.
- Live in the UK.
The Government Benefits Available
As an Afghan resettled in the UK, you will have no restrictions on your access to public funds such as universal credit, pensions, and so forth. However, it should be noted that under the resettlement schemes, there is no reason not to claim universal credit or pension credit right away.
Those who apply for asylum in the UK will have different rights than those entering the UK via one of the resettlement schemes. Asylum seekers do not have the right to work or claim benefits in the UK until they are granted refugee status.
Once asylum seekers obtain refugee status, they will have the same rights in the country as those who are citizens or residents. Until then, asylum seekers cannot claim benefits or work in the UK. Asylum seekers will obtain an allowance and have suitable accommodation arranged if needed.
Our Total Law Immigration Lawyers Can Help You
Asylum seekers and those eligible for the Afghan citizen’s resettlement schemes in the UK will find that these routes into the UK can be complex. The UK relocation schemes and family reunion schemes have strict eligibility criteria. The asylum claims process is also complex, but even those who get refused asylum can appeal if they have fled Afghanistan and believe the refusal was not legally justified with the help of an asylum lawyer.
In many cases, regardless of the route taken, Afghans should seek the assistance of our Total Laws immigration lawyers. Our legal team is well-versed in UK immigration law and can assist with ensuring that you get the necessary protection from fear of persecution or threat to life. Just give us a call at 0333 305 9375 to get started.
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