Government challenged over plan to send Afghan refugees home

The government is to be called to the House of Commons to explain its efforts to help tens of thousands of Afghan refugees.

Home Office legislation sent to the Commons on Wednesday requests a debate later this month on the “voluntary return to Afghanistan” policy of the last Labour government and its replacement, the D.O.C. 674.

Critics say it denies thousands of Afghans access to the UK, despite the government’s claims that the policy is one of the main factors behind the drop in Afghan refugees.

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The policy currently requires refugees to apply for “voluntary return” to Afghanistan, even when they can prove that they want to remain in the UK, in the hope that they will be resettled in another country. About 1,500 Afghans are currently in voluntary return to Afghanistan, which has made the UK the world’s third-largest refugee sending country, according to the UN refugee agency.

Helen Jones, the shadow immigration minister, said: “The last Labour government had a crystal clear policy to ensure a safe place for refugees: we rejected the idea that our safety should depend on the stability of the government of the day in Afghanistan. This government has abandoned that promise and presided over the largest ever return to Afghanistan of refugees.

“It is an outrageous violation of human rights to force people to leave the country and then leave them stranded in limbo. As a party we will do everything we can to ensure this complacent government is properly held to account.”

The nature of the debate, which will take place on 24 May, means the government will not be able to respond in detail. The debate follows claims that some refugees are forced to return to Kabul because of uncertainty about their future.

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In February, the Guardian reported that people believed to be refugees were being warned they were not eligible for asylum due to the uncertainty caused by Afghanistan’s failings on a crucial rule of law standard, a view supported by the British attorney general, Geoffrey Cox.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “Voluntary returns have significantly reduced the numbers of refugees returning to Afghanistan. However, we will not allow people to risk their lives returning to the unstable country.”

• This article was amended on 17 May 2018. The original said “home secretary”. This has been corrected.

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