Priti Patel’s assertion that the UK cannot accommodate 20,000 Afghan refugees ‘all in one go’ has sparked criticism.

On Sky News, the Home Secretary triggered disapproval after she was pressed on the newly unveiled Afghanistan citizen resettlement scheme which will provide refuge for 20,000 refugees “in the long term” and 5,000 people over the course of one year.

She said: “We are working quickly on this.

“We cannot accommodate 20,000 people all in one go.

“Currently we are bringing back almost 1,000 people a day. This is an enormous effort. We can’t do this on our own. We have to work together.”

She declined, however, to reveal when the UK would receive the first refugees under the scheme, saying she was “not going to give a date”.

The Taliban seized Afghanistan on Sunday, causing people to flee their homes to crowded airports in an attempt to escape the regime. While a spokesman from the group has claimed it will respect women’s rights, when it was last in power it oversaw a repressive and strict administration, sparking doubts.

At least three people were reported to have died after clinging onto a moving aeroplane and falling. Meanwhile, the UNHCR says that an estimated 400,000 people in Afghanistan have been forced to flee their homes since the beginning of the year, with up to 30,000 leaving the country every week.

Patel added that she had spoken with her Canadian counterparts on Tuesday evening, who told her a similar pledge by their government to resettle 20,000 people was an “aspiration”, which includes locally employed staff.

The government also said its new scheme was modelled on the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, which relocated 20,000 Syrian refugees over a seven-year period from 2014 to 2021.

But opposition politicians and charities have chastised Patel and the government for the pledge and have claimed the UK can do more to support those fleeing Afghanistan.

Bill Esterson, the Labour MP for Sefton Central urged the Home Secretary to act with speed.

He said: “Priti Patel says 5,000 people who helped the UK in Afghanistan will be given places over a year. But those in fear for their lives need help today not in a year’s time. The UK government needs to act with our international partners in this humanitarian crisis. Now.”

While journalist Peter Jukes accused her of “pulling up the ladder”:

Tim Naor Hilton, CEO of Refugee Action, told indy100 the scheme “doesn’t go far enough”. He added:

“We find it very strange that the Home Secretary has denied that it is possible to resettle more than 5,000 refugees in one year.

“We know that it is possible to accommodate at least 10,000 refugees per year as part of a formal resettlement programme. In fact, we’ve spent the past year calling on the Government to make a commitment to do just that.

“It looks like the Home Secretary is clipping the wings of a ground-breaking plan for protection that the public mood is demanding. In these unprecedented times, we need a Government driven by radical compassion and not a ‘computer says no’ approach”.

Zarlasht Halaimzai, founder of Refugee Trauma Initiative said:

“The commitment to accept 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan over the next five years is woefully inadequate. The number does not even cover the people whom have stood shoulder to shoulder with the UK Government over the past two decades.

“Mass evacuations are needed now, not in five years. Widespread ‘disappearings’ have already begun, with women and girls, artists, activists, journalists, LGBTIQ+ people now in imminent danger.

“If we abandon these people, what does it say about our respect for British values of democracy, freedom, women’s empowerment and religious intolerance?

“The situation we are watching unfold now is completely different to any other crisis. We asked Afghans to put their lives and their families lives on this line for us, for our troops and for democracy, and that exactly what they did. We can and must do more.”

In a statement, Layla Moran MP, the Liberal Democrat party’s foreign affairs spokesperson, said: “We need these vulnerable people out of the country as soon as possible, instead of the government’s vague promise of the long-term. There is no time to waste. The Taliban are knocking on doors right now and making lists of those they plan to kill.”

Moran added: “The government have kicked this into the long grass when Afghans need help now – today. Twenty thousand should be the starting point of this scheme, not the target.”

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Patel also called on other nations to help take in Afghan refugees. “The UK is also doing all it can to encourage other countries to help. Not only do we want to lead by example, we cannot do this alone,” she wrote.

indy100 has contacted the Home Office for comment.

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