The Government must increase the 5,000 Afghanistan Resettlement Scheme cap – My question to the Foreign Secretary.
You can watch my speech here.
The Government doesn't even know how many Afghans have asked to come to the UK under the scheme for those threatened by the Taliban.
My speech in full:
Ms Harriet Harman
(Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab)
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement. May I ask him about the number of requests the Government have already had in respect of Afghan citizens who do not qualify for the ARAP scheme as they did not work directly for us, but who want and need to flee here from Afghanistan and have already asked? I know that the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme is not yet open, but he must already know how many have, through Members of this House or other organisations, already asked to come here because of the Taliban. Can he tell us how many have done so? How will the Government decide who is going to get into the 5,000 cap? The criteria for the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme are yet to be announced, but we know that it is for those who are highly vulnerable to the Taliban because of what they have done in support of the values we and the previous regime were committed to, in particular, women and girls, equality, democracy and human rights. There are bound to be so many more than 5,000, so how will the Government in practice decide between those who will be the lucky 5,000 and be allowed to come here, and those who, although meeting the criteria, will, because of the 5,000 cap, be refused and face a terrible fate at the hands of the Taliban? The reality is that the unless the Government increase the 5,000 cap, the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme is going to end up as a lottery of life and death.
I know how passionate the right hon. and learned Lady is about this issue and how assiduous she has been on it. It is difficult to give a precise number of the applications and claims, not least because there is some duplication in the multiple emails and correspondence we have had. She is right to say—frankly, this would be true even if we doubled or tripled the quota—that the number of people who flee Afghanistan is going to outstrip what the UK would be able to take alone. That means that we need to look very carefully at the criteria, as the Home Secretary and I are doing across Government, to make sure that we prioritise the most vulnerable and those with a particular link to the UK, as well as co-ordinating with the United Nations. Further details will be set out by the Home Secretary.
As I mentioned earlier, the UK is doing our bit, alongside the aid we are providing, including to support third countries that take refugees. The UK will not be able to deal with the demand alone—of course we would not do so—but by taking action and showing leadership, we will help to corral and cajole other countries to follow suit. That is how we will have a comprehensive and effective response to the Afghanistan situation.