Credit: Linda Norgrove Foundation

Students from Afghanistan further delayed by Home Office

By Martin Mullaney

A charity initiative to bring medical students from Afghanistan to Glasgow is facing delays from UK immigration policy.

This month marks one year since the announcement of a scheme, organised by the Linda Norgrove Foundation, to accommodate 20 female Afghan medicine students at the five Scottish medical schools, including the University of Glasgow. The Foundation, based on the Isle of Lewis, offers scholarships to young Afghan women training in medicine, nursing, and midwifery. It began the present initiative in the wake of the Taliban’s ban on female students attending university in Afghanistan. 

Speaking to The Glasgow Guardian last year, John Norgrove, who runs the foundation alongside his wife Lorna, praised the participating universities for the keenness of their support. Despite that, however, the initiative has been met with major delays and uncertainty from the UK Home Office, and not one of the 20 students has been relocated to Scotland.

The Home Office’s Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), one of two schemes established by the British government to take in Afghan refugees, is the programme under which the students may be granted asylum, as the other resettlement scheme, the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy Scheme (ARAP), only targeted those who worked for or with the UK during the war in Afghanistan.

Under ACRS, there exist three pathways by which Afghans can be resettled in the UK. The first pathway, under which the vast majority of ACRS beneficiaries have thus far been resettled, applies to those evacuated or promised evacuation during Operation Pitting, which marked the end of Britain’s withdrawal from the country in 2021. The second is only available to those who have already fled Afghanistan and have found themselves in another country. The third pathway is intended to help those specifically at risk due to their support of the UK and the wider international community in Afghanistan, as well as particularly vulnerable groups, such as women, girls, and minorities.

Given these stipulations, it is the third pathway that the Linda Norgrove Foundation believes can resettle its students. While during the first year of ACRS, which began in January 2022, only British Council contractors, contractors for GardaWorld (a Canadian security company employed to guard embassies), and alumni of Chevening (a UK government international scholarship and fellowship programme) were considered under this pathway, the Home Office made clear its intention to broaden the scope of the category in ACRS’ second year, in order to identify and give aid to more vulnerable Afghans.

However, despite stating that it would begin considering its second year of applications in August 2023, itself a delay from the expected start-date of January 2023, the Foundation is still waiting for news on when the 20 students will be considered.

This all comes despite the UK Government’s pledge to safely relocate up to 20,000 Afghans through the admittedly nebulous lifetime of ACRS. A government spokesperson said: “Supporting the resettlement of eligible Afghans remains a top priority and we continue to work with like-minded partners and countries neighbouring Afghanistan on resettlement issues”, and that, so far, “we have brought around 24,600 vulnerable people to safety”. However, less than one third of that 24,600 figure refers to those resettled after Operation Pitting.

The SNP’s spokesperson for Home Affairs, Alison Thewliss MP, described the students’ predicament as a “mark of failure” of ACRS. The Scottish Government has stated that it will offer free tuition and cost of living support to the 20 students if the Home Office grants them the ability to resettle. They also said that the Scottish Education Secretary, Jennifer Gilruth MSP, wrote to the then-Home Secretary Suella Braverman to seek clarity on what was being done about the matter. 

Norgrove expressed the Foundation’s disappointment with the Home Office’s response in a statement to The Herald.


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