Thursday, Aug 22, 2002
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By Hasan Suroor
Under a "voluntary assisted return programme'', each Afghan family would be paid £2,500 plus free passage to go back to their own country. The families would also be helped with their rehabilitation and resettlement in Afghanistan.
The Immigration Minister, Beverley Hughes, said the idea was to help those who wanted to go home to "do so in a dignified and sustainable manner.''
The scheme, which would run for six months, would apply to some 20,000 refugees whose applications are either pending, or who have been given "exceptional leave'' to stay in Britain. But not many are expected to take advantage, and refugee welfare groups have sought an assurance from the Government that people, not willing to go, would not be coaxed into it.
``The bottom line is that returns must be voluntary,'' Margaret Lally of the Refugee Council said amid fears that refugees might be pressured into leaving. "Our experience shows that programmes limited to short periods can place undue pressure on refugees to go home before they are ready and when the situation in their home country, as is the case with Afghanistan, is very unstable and insecure,'' she added.
The scheme, which critics denounced as "financially induced repatriation'', came a week after the controversy surrounding the forcible deportation of a young Afghan couple and their two children to Germany, where they had first sought asylum after fleeing the erstwhile Taliban regime in Kabul.
It was the first time that the Government put its tough new asylum policy to test following criticism from other European countries that Britain's lax approach to asylum had turned it into a "soft touch'' for refugees.
The Government has made clear that henceforth no refugee would be entertained by Britain unless it is the first port of call. Those entering Britain through other European countries would be sent back to the country they first entered.
It is estimated that there are over 40,000 Afghan refugees in Britain, and nearly half of them are waiting for their cases to be finalised.
The cash-for-return scheme is similar to the one that saw hundreds of Kosovan refugees return home a few years ago.
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