New British law puts thousands of asylum seekers from Afghanistan at risk of abandonment

Thousands of asylum seekers from Afghanistan are at risk of being abandoned by the British government under a new law, the Illegal Migration Bill, being put through the House of Commons, a think tank has warned.

According to figures obtained by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and reported by the London Evening Standard, more than 900 asylum seekers have crossed the English Channel from France since January. And Home Office figures show that 24% of the 3,793 small boat crossings recorded between January and March 2023 were made by people from Afghanistan.

Under the proposed bill, anyone arriving by small boat on or after March 7 will be refused asylum and the Home Secretary will have a duty to remove them.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) warns that this would leave thousands of Afghans trapped in limbo, unable to be removed and unable to claim asylum. Marley Morris, IPPR associate director for migration, trade and communities, criticizes the government’s new migration bill, saying, “Afghans left stranded after the disastrously executed withdrawal in 2021 will almost always have a well-founded protection claim, but under the Government’s migration bill any arriving by small boat on or after 7 March will be refused asylum and the Home Secretary will have a duty to remove them.”

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Morris adds that the government’s claim that there are safe routes for people from Afghanistan is not accurate, as the routes have been plagued by delays and difficulties. Morris further notes that only 22 people were resettled under one of the key pathways in 2022.

The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) was launched in January 2022 with two pathways. Under Pathway 1, for Afghans who were evacuated to the UK as part of Operation Pitting in 2021, around 6,300 places have been used so far. Under Pathway 2 of the scheme, just 22 people have been resettled in the UK via referral from the UNHCR. Pathway 2 is the only open route for resettlement for Afghans who are not already in the UK.

The proposed new law aims to ban anyone arriving in the UK illegally from claiming asylum, and is key to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to stop people arriving in the UK on small boats.

However, the British Equality and Human Rights Commission warns that the legislation risks breaching international human rights obligations. The Commission raises concerns over provisions that provide for the detention of children and pregnant women and remove protections for victims of trafficking and modern slavery.