Nine months after the chaotic evacuation of thousands of Afghans to the UK, refugees have told Sky News of their distress that their long term applications to stay here have still not been processed.
Fifteen thousand people were flown to the UK as the Taliban took control of Kabul.
Some had British passports but those who didn’t were given six-month visas and told they would get indefinite leave to remain (ILR).
Data has not been collated to establish how many of those who were evacuated during Operation Pitting – and other resettlement schemes – are now living in limbo after their visas expired but their long-term paperwork has not been processed.
The lack of status can leave people struggling to prove their right to be in the UK and access work and services.
Sky News has spoken to a number of Afghans who tell us of the distress caused by living with uncertainty.
Lawyers say they are concerned about a ‘backlog’ of cases.
Sky News has seen the ILR application for a 15-year-old boy who was given a six-month visa in August last year after being flown from Kabul.
The application, written by a Home Office worker, appears to give an insight into the delays.
The Home Office worker wrote: “It was intended to reach the applicant before his visa expired to complete an ILR (Indefinite Leave to Remain) under the ACRS (Afghan Citizens Resettlement) scheme.
“However, due to the volume of applications and appointments, we’ve been late contacting the applicant – which was completely out of his control.”
‘False promises’ from the Home Office
When we met the 15-year-old he was attending a community event organised by Fahim Zazai, who is supporting the boy and helping with his application.
“The way the Home Office is treating them – the false promises the Home Office was offering in the initial days don’t seem to be happening,” he told Sky News.
Fahim also told us the boy – who arrived nine months ago – hasn’t yet been to school because a place hasn’t been found for him.
The local authority told us: “We continue to support and welcome refugees to the borough. We are unable to comment on individual cases as this would breach data protection.”
Mother of six terrified of deportation
Fahim introduced us to the Qasami family – also living in limbo.
Azarulla Qasami, 48, came to the UK in 2002 arriving illegally in a lorry and now has British citizenship.
His wife Gul, 38, and six of their children were evacuated from Afghanistan last summer during Operation Pitting.
The children are aged between one and 20 – including a six-year-old called Sudis who can’t walk, talk or move and is fed through a tube.
The family are hugely grateful that Gul and the children were evacuated and believe Sudis is only alive because of the treatment he is getting in the UK.
But Gul says she is terrified of being sent back to Afghanistan because she hasn’t yet been given permanent leave to remain in the UK and her visa has expired.
The Home Office has promised new arrivals through resettlement schemes a warm welcome.
But in the absence of official documents, the family remain worried.
Azarulla said: “When they arrived my family were given a six-month visa. My child is disabled with special needs so they came to join me here. We desperately need help.
“We keep asking everyone who can help us and different organisations if they can support us.
“Every very day my wife is telling me ‘we came here, but we are not certain what is going to happen. Are they going to send us back?’
“It’s making us depressed because we don’t know what will happen next, whether they’ll get leave to remain. We are worried about our future.”
Gul said: “We had a difficult life in Afghanistan because I was looking after my disabled child. Since I came here I’m happy my child is receiving the medical care he needs and I’m with my husband.
“But we are living in limbo. I can’t live a normal life. We’re worried about our future.”
Annette Elder of the Law Society Immigration Committee said: “We don’t know how many grants of ILR have been issued to Afghans.
“We don’t know how big the backlog is, some very simple communication would improve the situation for Afghans. It is causing fear in the Afghan community who don’t have their leave to remain.
“It’s definitely still an issue. I know from my own practice and other practitioners that they are still seeing people who haven’t seen their grants for leave to remain. All they have is the expired six-month residency card.
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“If you don’t have a resident card showing you have valid leave to remain it will be very difficult to get employment. It will be difficult to rent your own accommodation.
“Moving to a new area – registering to a GP can be very difficult. Accessing services in the community is challenging.”
In a statement, the Home Office said: “All those resettled here have the immediate right to work, access to education, healthcare and can apply for public funds so they can rebuild their lives here.
“We are continuing to grant indefinite leave to remain to the Afghans resettled here at pace and will publish statistics in due course.”
The Home Office says Operation Pitting was the biggest and fastest emergency evacuation in the UK’s recent history, bringing over 15,000 people to safety in the UK and helping 36 other countries airlift their own nationals.
The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) for those who worked with the UK in Afghanistan remains open.