THE UK Government’s failure to open a resettlement programme for Afghan citizens has been criticised as a “disgrace”.

The scheme was announced to ­provide protection for people at risk in the region, including ­women, girls and minority groups, after ­Afghanistan was abandoned to the Taliban by Western forces in August.

Three months on, ministers have yet to confirm when the Afghan ­Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) will be up and running.

Responding to a House of ­Commons written question last week, Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins said: “The scheme is not yet open and remains under development.”

The UK Government has pledged to resettle 20,000 people over the course of the scheme, and approximately 5000 people in the first year.

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A recent briefing published by the Scottish Parliament ­Information ­Centre (SPICe) noted it has not ­confirmed how long it will be open for or the targets beyond the first year.

Wafa Shaheen, head of asylum, integration and resettlement at the Scottish Refugee Council said: “The UK Government’s announcement of a resettlement scheme for people to reach safety from Afghanistan was welcome, although the commitment did not go nearly far enough.

“It is deeply disappointing and concerning that very little of this commitment has materialised.

“We urgently need full details of how the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme will operate and when it will begin. The people of Afghanistan need to be supported to safety now, not in weeks or months to come.”

Shaheen also pointed out the UK Government’s Nationality and ­Borders Bill is currently going through parliament. She said the ­“anti-refugee” bill would criminalise people who have fled from Afghanistan – as well as many others in need of protection – who reach the UK through their own means.

“The sad reality is that the vast ­majority of people who need to reach safety will be unable to do so through an organised resettlement scheme,” she added.

“This crisis has made it even ­clearer that this nonsensical and brutal bill must be scrapped.”

Abdul Bostani, director of Glasgow Afghan United, said there were questions over what progress was being made with the resettlement scheme.

He added: “Some Syrian people in Lebanon and Jordan who were ­accepted for transfer to the UK in partnership with the UN waited a very long time with no support from the UK while they waited.

“How can we know that ­Afghanistan will be different?”

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SNP home affairs spokesman ­Stuart McDonald (above) said: “The fact that the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme is not open yet is a downright disgrace and illustrative of the Tories complacency and lack of care for resettlement of refugees.

“The UK Government has a heavy responsibility to be helping ­vulnerable people in Afghanistan and needs to recognise the urgency that is needed.

“Scotland stands ready to welcome and support any vulnerable Afghan refugee who seek asylum but, without the powers to step up in the ways we want to, we are reliant on waiting for action from a government in Westminster that generally sees asylum as an opportunity to show how tough it is, rather than how much it cares.”

A UK Government spokeswoman said: “We undertook the UK’s biggest and fastest emergency evacuation in recent history, helping over 15,000 people to safety from Afghanistan. 

“The Afghan Citizens’ ­Resettlement Scheme is one of the most generous schemes in our country’s history. It will give up to 20,000 further people at risk a new life in the UK.

“We continue to do all we can to enable British nationals and eligible Afghans to leave the country.”