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The UK Government does not recognise the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan and does not have formal diplomatic relations with the country. In February 2022 the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: “we have a longstanding policy of recognising states, not Governments, and the Prime Minister has been clear that if the Taliban want international acceptance, they must abide by international norms”.

In line with the US and EU, however, the UK Government acknowledges that there is “no alternative to engaging pragmatically with the current administration of Afghanistan”. The FDCO retains a UK Mission to Afghanistan in Doha, through which regular engagement with Taliban officials takes place.

The UK works with Special Representatives and envoys for Afghanistan from Canada, the EU, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway and the US to develop joint policies on Afghanistan and promote coherent approaches to the challenges that the country currently faces. The Government also engages with other Afghans based in the UK, and elsewhere, including human rights activists and non-Taliban political figures, in order to promote its objectives.

Government priorities

Since the Taliban-takeover in August 2021, Afghanistan has been experiencing a severe humanitarian crisis, and a significant deterioration in human rights. Among the Government’s priorities for Afghanistan, therefore, are:

The UK recently welcomed the recommendations of a report by the UN Secretary General (PDF) as “an important opportunity for all parties, including the Taliban, and the international community, to work towards improving the lives of all Afghans”. The Government continues to call on the Taliban to “meet its international commitments”.

The FCDO also advises against all travel to Afghanistan. It considers the security situation to be volatile and that there is a significant risk of the detention of British nationals.

UK aid to Afghanistan

In 2024, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates that 29 million people in Afghanistan will be in need of humanitarian assistance. It also reports continuing restrictions on women from participating in humanitarian work.

Priorities for UK aid

As set out in the FCDO’s UK-Afghanistan development partnership summary, July 2023, around 70% of UK aid to Afghanistan in 2023/24 will focus on humanitarian preparedness and response. The three largest UK programmes are:

The UK Government has also set a target for 50% of its bilateral aid to Afghanistan to reach women and girls. In November 2023, it said the target was met in 2021/22 and it was “on track to do so” again in 2022/23.

Like other donor states, the UK does not provide any aid via the Taliban. Instead, aid is provided directly to UK partners such as the Red Cross and UN agencies. The Government says it has “strict monitoring” and verification processes in place for UK-funded programmes in Afghanistan.

Planned reductions in UK aid spending

Following the Taliban’s capture of Kabul in August 2021, increased UK commitments meant Afghanistan became the UK’s largest bilateral aid programme, with spending rising to £286 million in 2021/22.

However, as set out in its 2022 and 2023 annual reports, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) plans for UK bilateral aid to Afghanistan to fall by around 47% from 2021/22 to 2024/25 (from around £286 million to £151 million). In 2023/24, the UK expects to spend around £100.4 million, before rising to £151 million in 2024/25.

The Minister for South Asia and the Middle East, Lord Ahmad, said the Government must be “realistic” about what funding can be effectively distributed and that the ability of organisations to deliver aid in certain areas of Afghanistan has been “hindered by the imposition of quite draconian restrictions by the Taliban”.

The UK’s Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) also notes UK spending in Afghanistan will fall in 2023/24 “in the context of successive reductions to UK [aid] and the unprecedented scale of [aid] utilisation for housing refugees in the UK”.

In response to the October 2023 earthquakes, the Government announced an additional £3 million to the Red Cross, Afghanistan Humanitarian Fund and UN Population Fund. According to UNOCHA, an estimated 1,480 people were killed in the earthquakes and 48,000 households were affected.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has warned that a reduction or withholding of external aid to Afghanistan “will worsen Afghanistan’s economic prospects and perpetuate extreme poverty for decades”.

Resettlement of eligible Afghans in the UK

Two immigration routes specifically cater for people affected by the situation in Afghanistan:

  • TheAfghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) was launched in January 2022 with the aim of resettling up to 20,000 people in the UK over the following few years.
  • TheAfghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) is open to any current or former staff employed by HM Government in Afghanistan since 2001 who are assessed to be at serious risk of threat to life. Eligibility is regardless of employment status, rank or role, or length of time served. The scheme is open-ended and there is no limit on the number of people eligible.

As of September 2023, around 24,600, including over 21,600 people eligible for the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) and the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) schemes have been brought to the UK.

Issues with the schemes remain, including delays in bringing eligible Afghans to the UK. Over 2,000 people, eligible under ARAP, are waiting in Pakistan and other third countries for permission to come to the UK. The Government has said it is committed to relocating all eligible persons who remain in Pakistan and third countries as soon as possible.

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