Home Secretary Priti Patel has defended the number cap on a new Afghan resettle scheme, saying the government will need to lay the groundwork first.
Patel also suggested that the cap is not absolute.
The Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme, which was announced on Wednesday, is expected to resettle 5,000 Afghan nationals in the UK in the first year, with a total number of up to 20,000, the government said.
However, critics said that the government isn’t moving quickly enough to help those who wish to flee Afghanistan, which has fallen under Taliban control.
Responding to the accusation, Patel told Sky News that it’s logistically impossible to take in too many Afghans in one go.
“We have to ensure we have the support structures throughout the United Kingdom. We will be working with local councils throughout the country, the devolved governments as well,” she said.
“We are working quickly on this. We cannot accommodate 20,000 people all in one go.”
Patel added that the government is “expanding categories of people” that the scheme would cover and may end up bringing in “up to 10,000” people during the first year.
Downing Street has also suggested that more Afghans may benefit from the scheme.
“I think that’s a recognition that more may come forward via that route now,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said.
“Obviously this is not a time-limited or capped offer, as the prime minister has said we owe a debt to those Afghan nationals that have helped Britain over the last 20 years and we intend to honour them,” he added.
Patel told Sky News that resettling Afghan refugees is an “enormous effort” that Britain can’t do on its own.
In an opinion article published in The Telegraph on Tuesday, Patel said “the UK is also doing all it can to encourage other countries to help. ”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) agency welcomed the UK’s announcement of the scheme.
“We look forward to hearing further details, and will work with the government to resettle people in need,” Laura Padoan, spokesperson for the UNHCR, said in a statement.
But she added that the UK should also accommodate Afghan asylum seekers outside of the scheme, including those who enter the UK illegally.
“The UK also needs to preserve the right to asylum for Afghans and others arriving spontaneously in the UK, a right under threat from the Nationality and Borders Bill returning to Parliament next month,” she said.
“Afghans or other refugees should not be criminalised because of the way they arrive. It would be contradictory to recognise that Afghans are facing danger and are in need of protection but then punish them should they make their way to the UK,” she added.
“The UK, like all other countries, has a legal and moral responsibility to allow people to seek safety on its shores.”
The government’s planned overhaul of the asylum system intends to introduce tougher sentences for those who knowingly arrive in the UK without permission and for people smugglers.
It means, for the first time, how someone enters the UK—legally or illegally—will affect the progress of their asylum claim and their status in the UK, if their bid is successful.
PA contributed to this report.