An Afghan man who arrived in the UK at the age of 14 after fleeing persecution has been “left in limbo” because of a Home Office policy blocking decisions on all asylum claims from Afghanistan.
The 26-year-old Afghan has launched a legal challenge against the policy.
The block on making decisions on Afghan protection claims for those currently in the UK was discovered when the man’s lawyer applied to upgrade his immigration status from the humanitarian protection he has at the moment, to refugee status.
The lawyer, Jamie Bell at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, received a letter from a Home Office official stating: “Due to events in Afghanistan at present we have a block on all Afghan cases pending a policy update.”
According to newly published Home Office data there were 3,213 Afghans waiting for a decision on their claims at the end of June 2021.
The Afghan man, who has a diagnosis of PTSD, severe depression and dissociative identity disorder, told the Guardian he was devastated by the news of the block on a decision on his and other Afghans’ cases.
“I couldn’t believe it when my solicitor told me about this. I have been here almost half my life and consider the UK to be my home country. It’s an insulting thing to do to Afghans like me who want to be safe. It makes me feel there is no safety for human beings.”
The Home Office has also asked judges in the immigration tribunal to stop hearing Afghan protection claims.
In a recent letter to the court Home Office officials said: “The secretary of state’s representative accepts the news reports that clearly indicate that the Taliban has taken back control of the majority of the country including Kabul. However, what this means in terms of the risk on return for those currently seeking asylum in the UK is unclear.”
Bell said: “The clients who are being affected by this are those who have suffered for years and are suffering even more now. My client has been left in limbo.”
The legal challenge – a pre-action protocol – has given Priti Patel until 2 September to respond and argues that the block on making decisions on Afghan cases is unlawful because it is unpublished and unannounced and would expose the home secretary to “public condemnation” if it were widely known .
The Home Office this week published its annual immigration statistics, which revealed that it has rejected about half of Afghan asylum claims in the year ending June 2021. Of 1,467 Afghans who came to the UK in search of safety 55% were granted refugee status.
Enver Solomon, the CEO of the Refugee Council, has called on the government to grant rapid protection to Afghans in search of safety in the UK. He said Afghan cases should be fast-tracked.
Solomon said: “The catastrophic situation in Afghanistan is becoming more and more dangerous by the day. These incredibly vulnerable people fleeing the Taliban must be granted protection as a matter of urgency. All those currently waiting for a decision must now be put through a simplified fast-track process so they can safely rebuild their lives in our country.”
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrants rights director, said: “Shockingly, the Home Office rejected claims from Afghans at the very time the Taliban was taking control of the country. The home secretary should focus on making the asylum system more accessible – reducing not adding to delays and improving the quality of decision-making so vulnerable people receive the protection to which they are entitled.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have temporarily suspended our guidance on in-country asylum claims because of the situation in Afghanistan and are working at pace to update it based on the quickly changing situation. In the meantime, all enforced returns in Afghanistan have stopped.
“Our immediate priority is to evacuate those in danger in Afghanistan. In the last two weeks we have evacuated over 13,000 vulnerable individuals including 7,975 eligible under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy and 3,920 British nationals.”