UK plans to welcome thousands of Afghans in new refugee plan

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British citizens and dual nationals residing in Afghanistan board a military plane for evacuation from Kabul airport, Afghanistan August 16, 2021, in this handout picture obtained by Reuters on August 17, 2021. LPhot Ben Shread/UK MOD Crown copyright 2021/Handout via REUTERS

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LONDON, Aug 17 (Reuters) - Britain on Tuesday announced plans to welcome up to 5,000 Afghans fleeing the Taliban during the first year of a new resettlement programme that will prioritise women, girls and religious and other minorities.

Foreign powers are assessing how to respond after Islamist Taliban insurgents rapidly seized control in Afghanistan, with many fearing a swift unravelling of women's rights, despite reassurances to the contrary.

Britain already plans to relocate 5,000 people as part of an Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, designed to help present and past employees of the UK government, and on Tuesday announced plans to go further with a new scheme.

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"I want to ensure that as a nation we do everything possible to provide support to the most vulnerable fleeing Afghanistan so they can start a new life in safety in the UK," said Home Secretary Priti Patel.

"The Afghan Citizens' Resettlement Scheme will save lives."

The Conservative government has faced pressure from opposition parties and charities to set out the specifics of how it will help Afghans.

In the long term, the programme aims to assist up to 20,000 people, Patel's ministry said.

In an article published by Patel in The Telegraph, she called on other nations to help take in Afghan refugees as well.

"The UK is also doing all it can to encourage other countries to help. Not only do we want to lead by example, we cannot do this alone," she wrote.

As the situation rapidly changed over the last few days, it has been difficult to evacuate people stuck in other parts of Afghanistan where there is no access to an airport or a third country.

"The complex picture on the ground means there will be significant challenges delivering the scheme, but the government is working at speed to address these obstacles," the Home Office said in a statement.

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Reporting by Costas Pitas; additional reporting by Kanishka Singh; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Karishma Singh

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