Practitioners specialising in refugee protection and immigration work have urged the Home Office to concede tribunal appeals involving Afghan nationals that are waiting to be heard.
The Afghanistan and Central Asian Association says it is fielding enormous numbers of contacts from people at risk in Afghanistan and their family members in the UK while the Immigration Law Practitioners Association says many of its members are advising British and Afghan nationals on legal routes to safety.
In a joint letter to government departments, they outline several detailed ‘concrete measures’ to help Afghan citizens.
These include deploying more government staff to receive phone enquiries on the emergency assistance line. ‘Advisers reported that individuals can wait for over four hours to be put through and have been cut off whilst awaiting assistance,’ the letter says. Telephone lines should be free of charge for national and international calls.
A facility should be set up for family members in the UK to submit email applications for family reunion where relatives are at risk and the UK is the most appropriate country of refuge. ‘This has a precedent in the 1990 Somali Family Reunion Policy during the then breaking crisis in the Horn of Africa,’ the letter says.
The Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy, an existing Home Office programme to resettle Afghan nationals and their families who have supported British efforts in Afghanistan, should be broadened to cover those working for contractors and UK-funded projects.
Existing routes for family reunion can be used and expanded to process visa applications from people at risk in Afghanistan with family members in the UK.
The associations say from earlier this year, the Home Office has routinely applied ‘inadmissibility’ rules to asylum applicants who have arrived in the UK from third countries, restricting their access to protection procedures. They call for refugee status or humanitarian protection to be granted to all Afghans. ‘Again, there is precedent for this by reference to the Exceptional Leave to Remain policies in place for Afghan nationals from January 2001 until 18 April 2002 before the Taliban were ousted by the allied military operation,’ the letter says.
Afghans in the UK with pending asylum applications should be granted refugee status and access to family reunification immediately. The Home Office should proactively concede Afghan asylum and human rights appeals pending before the First-Tier Tribunal and notify the tribunal president of its position. Pending asylum appeals that cannot be conceded should be heard without delay.
Those who have exhausted their appeal rights should be granted a limited leave to remain with the right to work until their claims are resolved. Afghan nationals held in immigration detention should be released immediately.
Chetal Patel, an immigration partner at London firm Bates Wells, said: ‘The Home Office needs to listen to the voices of those closest to the people on the ground in Afghanistan and take into account socio-cultural factors. Those who are eligible to be evacuated might understandably be reluctant to leave family members behind and could risk persecution by the Taliban in order to protect their families.'