The UK government has been facing increasing pressure over the delay in the release of the next phase of the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme (ACRS ) for hundreds of Afghanistan journalists who supported the West’s mission in the Islamic country.
An estimated 200 Afghan journalists have fled to Iran and Pakistan after the Taliban took over Afghanistan and imposed their own interpretation of Sharia law that bans women from working, reports the Guardian newspaper.
Apart from the UK, Germany, France and Kosovo are among the other countries that have offered refuge to a number of at-risk stranded journalists.
These journalists have expressed frustration against the UK government for not acting fast enough amidst reports that they are being targeted as their visas expire.
According to reports, last month, a number of Afghan journalists were arrested in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, and their phones, laptops and cameras were seized.
Eight Afghan journalists who worked for the BBC recently had their UK visa applications reopened after legal action against the Home Office.
In light of these incidents, a coalition of press freedom and free expression organisations, including the Index on Censorship, the National Union of Journalists, PEN International and English PEN, wrote to home secretary Suella Braverman this weekend asking why details of the next phase of the ACRS have yet to be revealed.
The Editor-at-large of Index on Censorship, Martin Bright, said they have received a number of relocation demands from Afghan journalists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran who had been offered no reassurance.
“Without clarification on progress for ACRS, there is little if any support that can be provided, and this leaves the journalists vulnerable to threats of disappearance, violence, arrest, imprisonment and assassination,” said Bright.
The ACRS was conceived in August 2021, in the months of the Taliban takeover, under the auspices of then prime minister Boris Johnson.
It was officially launched in January 2022 for those already evacuated, with a second “pathway” later opened for refugees in neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and Iran.
After evacuating contractors who worked for institutions like the British Council on priority, a third pathway is planned to fully open this year, with journalists expected to be among its priority groups, though no details are yet available, reports Guardian.
A government source told the newspaper that more information on this “will be set out in due course”.
(With inputs from agencies)
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