Downing Street confirmed on Wednesday that the UK will take up to 20,000 Afghanistan refugees in the next five years.
Under the new programme, the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme, 5,000 refugees will be eligible to enter the UK over the next year.
Those who are most “threatened by the current crisis”, such as women, girls and religious minorities, will be at the top of this list.
This will work alongside the Resettlement Scheme for Afghans for those who have worked with the British Embassy or Army.
But critics have already exposed several significant flaws in the new refugee scheme.
1. ‘Woefully inadequate’ numbers
Many have called on the UK to take more than its allotted 20,000 Afghans and for citizens to be accepted sooner rather than later.
Ian Blackford, the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) leader in Westminster described the programme’s targets as “woefully inadequate”.
He tweeted: “The UK government shares responsibility for this crisis in Afghanistan. They must now step up and welcome at leat 35,000–40,000 refugees to the UK.”
Conservative backbencher David Davis also told HuffPost UK that he wanted to accept more than 50,000 refugees while the Lib Dems have said 20,000 should be a starting point, rather than the final number of the new programme.
2. Delays provide Taliban a windows to attack targets
As only 5,000 of Afghan refugees will be eligible to enter the UK within the next year, the remaining 15,000 will have to stay in the Taliban-run country – but this delay could prove fatal.
As Labour MP Chris Bryant asked in the Commons: “What are the 15,000 meant to do? Hang around and wait until they have been executed?”
Those who have worked with western forces over the last 20 years are among those who should be helped by the UK, but this also means they are Taliban targets.
Kim Staffieri of the Association of Wartime Allies told Euronews that those outside of Kabul are “terrified”.
She explained: “Taliban fighters are going door to door and pulling people out who are not being seen again.”
Women in high-profile roles are particularly vulnerable, as the terror group is renowned for its deeply-held misogynistic views.
3. The Taliban checkpoints
Just getting Afghans out of the country will be an immense task, as most of Afghanistan is now controlled by the terror group.
The Afghans will have to get to Kabul, and then access its airport by travelling through a series of checkpoints both at the venue’s entrances and throughout the country which are now managed by the Taliban.
Here they could be searched, or beaten.
To board a flight, Afghans need to bring ID, such as a passport, and a contract to prove they are eligible to leave the country – items which could be confiscated by the Taliban, and citizens could receive brutal punishment as a result.
A former employee of the Dutch embassy told Euronews that Afghans were avoiding even leaving their homes out of fear of the Taliban.
They said: “This is the worst possible situation. I advised colleagues and friends to try to get to relatives’ houses. We are trying by ourselves to mitigate the risks.”
They added: “There’s no way to enter the airport right now. The Americans are shooting at people, the Taliban are shooting at people. It’s too risky for us to go with kids.”
4. It is too late for many to obtain visas
The majority of the population don’t have passports or visas and so cannot leave.
But some Afghans used to be staff on EU missions and just never received their visas, meaning European ambassadors are trying to personally process them at Kabul.
For those trying to move around the country without official documentation, they risk being pulled over by the militants.
These civilians are scared they could be identified through their fingerprints saved on the Interior Ministry’s internal database, according to Euronews’ source.
5. Chaos at Kabul airport
In the event that refugees do manage to make it to the capital city’s aiport, they will find it in complete disarray.
Kabul Airport is one of the remaining places still operated by US forces, but widespread panic and subsequent stampedes have made it chaotic.
Seven people were reportedly killed there on Monday as Afghans clambered to board planes – some as they took off – to escape the militants.
Taliban fighters have also fired warning gunshots to the Afghans trying to flee as large crowds try to flee the country in a bid for freedom.
Nato and the US have not created a solid timetable for departing flights either meaning there is little clarity for those trying to escape.
Many commercial airlines which provide the main escape route for Afghan civilians were temporarily stopped due to the chaos on the ground, based on guidance from the country’s aviation authority.
6. The programme is undermined by other government legislation
Labour leader Keir Starmer pointed out that the government had 18 months – dating back to when the US agreed to withdraw in February 2020 – to “prepare and plan for the consequences” of withdrawal from Afghanistan.
He claimed that in this time, the government could have secured “international and regional pressure for the Taliban” and set up schemes for refugee resettlement using its Nato seat, as well as its place in the G7 and the UN’s Security Council to work with Western allies on strategy.
Starmer then asked: “What did [the prime minister] do instead? He cut the development budget that was key to the strength and resilience of democracy in Afghanistan.”
Refugee Action did briefly praise the “truly life-changing” scheme, but claimed it “cannot act as a mask to hide this government’s real intentions to effectively end the asylum system through the #AntiRefugeeBill”.
This is a reference the new Nationality and Borders Bill which could mean refugees could be turned away based on their method of arrival in the UK.
Some may serve a four-year prison sentence if they arrived through illegal means.
The UK also cut its foreign aid budget earlier this year from 0.7 percent GDP to 0.5 percent. Prime minister Boris Johnson has now promised to double its aid to Afghanistan, meaning the country will now receive £286 million.