Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy

Defence – in the House of Commons on 18th July 2022.

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Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effectiveness of the Afghan relocations and assistance policy.

Photo of Elliot Colburn Elliot Colburn Conservative, Carshalton and Wallington

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effectiveness of the Afghan relocations and assistance policy.

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The Afghan relocations and assistance policy scheme has had more than 100,000 applications. Although I appreciation the desperation of many who apply, the reality is that staff numbers and even names of those who worked with us in Helmand are being shared, so it is hard to identify individual applicants. To that end—the entitlement is bound; we know who worked for us— last week, I engaged a number of non-governmental organisations and charities to help us find the people on the list of those who actually worked with us, so that we can bring them to the front of the queue and get them out as quickly as possible.

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Ministers confirmed last month that around 8,000 Afghans and their families could still be eligible for relocation to the UK under the ARAP scheme. The Minister says that it is hard to identify those people, so what specifically are Ministers doing to identify them, to establish pathways to get them here, and to process their applications as quickly as possible?

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I think the hon. Gentleman might realise that I have answered that question in my original answer. We think that there are about 2,000 principals—people who actually worked with us—yet to bring out. Rather than going through tens of thousands of applications, we are asking those with networks in-country to help us find those 2,000 people on the list. We have the capacity and the routes to bring them out. The challenge is finding them when a huge number of applications are gaming the system, with dozens of applications coming in on the same staff number, which should be the individual identifier.

Photo of Elliot Colburn Elliot Colburn Conservative, Carshalton and Wallington

I thank the MOD’s Afghan relocation team who are working tirelessly to identify and process the huge number of applications including friends and relatives of Carshalton and Wallington residents. How many individuals have made it to the UK under the ARAP scheme since Operation Pitting concluded?

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

A total of 9,962 people have come out under ARAP, 2,984 of whom have come out since Op Pitting.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Defence)

We are now only a few weeks away from the one-year anniversary of the start of Operation Pitting, the evacuation from Kabul. A year on, thousands of Afghan citizens are still waiting for their applications to be properly processed, too many are still in temporary accommodation, and the promises made to many of them about relocation and family reunions have been left unhonoured. With the one-year anniversary a few weeks away, what will the Minister be doing to speed up this incredibly slow process, so the promises that this country made to those Afghans who worked with our armed forces can truly be honoured?

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The hon. Gentleman probably just heard me answer the previous two questions. There are hundreds of thousands of applications, many of which are duplicates, and many of which are from people who have no eligibility under ARAP whatsoever. ARAP is a very tightly bound scheme. It is not the same as the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme or other mechanisms where each case might be judged on its merits. There is a list of people who worked with the British armed forces in Afghanistan, so our focus must be on finding the people on that list and bringing them out. We are doing so quickly.

The hon. Gentleman says that it has been nearly a year. That is correct, Mr Speaker, but it is not as if we can just wander around in Afghanistan and find these people. It is not straightforward. A lot of them are undocumented. He may want to speak to some of the charities that are working on this, as I know that some of his colleagues on the Back Benches do. When I spoke to them last week, they realised that the situation was exactly as I have said: it is not easy; people do not have documents; and we are working fast to get people out. We think we have found of way of doing so quicker, and we will be getting on with it now.