Only 22 Afghan people, including eight children, have been resettled in the UK under part of a government scheme that promised to help vulnerable refugees.
At the same time, the number of Afghan nationals arriving in the UK on small boats across the Channel rose to 8,633 last year – a sixfold increase on 2021. Afghans have in recent months overtaken Albanians as the predominant nationality undertaking the dangerous, irregular crossings.
The lack of a viable functioning route to the UK was forcing desperate Afghans, many of whom worked closely with the British authorities in Kabul before the Taliban took over, to take small boats across the Channel, a refugee charity said.
The government had promised to take up to 20,000 people, including up to 5,000 in the first year, who were forced to flee Afghanistan or faced threats of persecution from the Taliban.
The then prime minister, Boris Johnson, said at the time: “We will never forget the brave sacrifice made by Afghans who chose to work with us at great risk to themselves.”
But the number of Afghans making it to the UK through official channels is lower than anticipated.
The Afghan citizens resettlement scheme (ACRS) was launched in January 2022. Under pathway 2 of the scheme, just 22 people have been resettled in the UK via referral from the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR. Pathway 2 is currently the only open route for resettlement for Afghans who are not already in the UK. Pathway 1 focused on eligible people who were notified by the UK government that they could move to the UK but were not able to board a flight.
Meanwhile, the number of Afghan nationals arriving in small boats has increased, with 71% of the 8,633 who arrived in 2022 coming between August and December. The total was up from 1,437 in 2021, 494 in 2020, 69 in 2019 and three in 2018.
In the last three months of 2022, 3,834 Afghans came to the UK across the Channel, according to Home Office statistics. Until September, Albanians had been the biggest national grouping travelling to the UK in small boats.
Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “The fact that the number of Afghans coming across the Channel increased sixfold, but only 22 arrived on the Afghan resettlement scheme, shows how the government needs to urgently rethink its approach and expand access to refugee visas. We need an asylum system that isn’t just about control but is also about compassion and competence.”
The Home Office said about 24,500 people had been brought to safety from Afghanistan, including British nationals, their families, Afghans who served the UK and others identified as particularly at-risk.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has made an ambitious and generous commitment to help resettle some of the most at-risk people in Afghanistan and so far we have brought around 24,500 people to the UK, including via ACRS and Arap [Afghan relocations and assistance policy].
“Supporting the resettlement of eligible Afghans remains a top priority. We have so far welcomed over 7,600 arrivals under ACRS, including those who were evacuated, as well as those [who were] called forward during the evacuation of Afghanistan but were unable to travel and Afghan families who have been referred to the UK by the UNHCR.”