Today, Tuesday 15 February, marks six months since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, destroying lives and forcing people to flee for their safety. The British public watched the harrowing scenes from Kabul unfold on their screens – a stark reminder of why refugees are forced to escape from violence and persecution in any way they can.
With the final withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan and an end to the evacuation efforts, millions of people who were vulnerable to persecution by the Taliban, including those who supported British efforts, found themselves trapped, with no clear routes to safety. Amid public outcry, the UK Government launched the ‘Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme’, committing to resettle 20,000 refugees to the UK over the next 4 years, and ‘Operation Warm Welcome’ to support Afghans here to rebuild their lives.
But six months on, progress on the resettlement scheme has been unforgivably slow. It is currently only open to those who have already been relocated to the UK, meaning there is no way for displaced Afghans to reach the UK in safety, even though people’s lives are in danger right now. Many people who were relocated to the UK are still living in limbo, housed in hotels for months on end.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan has intensified. The United Nations and agencies operating in Afghanistan have warned that half of the population is facing acute hunger, health services are on the brink of collapse and tens of thousands of children are at risk of dying from malnutrition. The profound deprivation, coupled with the ongoing fear of violence and persecution from the Taliban, means that people continue to flee in search of safety and a chance to rebuild their lives.
There are 3.4 million Afghans internally displaced by conflict and a further 2.2 million hosted by neighbouring countries. Many of them don’t have the luxury of waiting for a rare place on a resettlement scheme and will make their own way to other countries, including the UK, in search of refugee protection.
Yet with its Nationality and Borders Bill currently going through Parliament, the UK Government is proposing to close the door on desperate people seeking safety. This ‘anti-refugee’ Bill aims to criminalise people travelling via so-called ‘irregular’ routes— often the only routes available to people forced to flee for their lives, like many of those desperately seeking safety in Afghanistan.
It means that a female judge from Afghanistan whose only chance of safety is arriving on a small boat will be criminalised, warehoused in a detention-like reception centre and threatened with deportation. It means that the interpreters who supported British efforts in Afghanistan and the soldiers who fought alongside our forces will face punishment, not protection, when they reach the UK – a far cry from the promised warm welcome.
The Prime Minister has previously stated that, “we owe a debt of gratitude to all those who have worked with us to make Afghanistan a better place over the last twenty years.” This Government’s duty to those people is irreconcilable with its plans to punish them under the anti-refugee Bill.
That’s why, on the occasion of the six-month anniversary of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Asylum Matters and our partners are calling for more than empty gestures and gratitude towards the Afghan people. We need action to ensure people fleeing the Taliban receive the protection they deserve. We need to scrap the #AntiRefugeeBill.
If you would like to join us to stand up for Afghan refugees, you can take action by:
- Sharing a new unbranded video entitled “A Warm Welcome?” on social media to raise awareness of how little the UK Government has done for Afghans seeking protection in the UK, and how the #AntiRefugeeBill will punish and criminalise Afghan refugees forced to make their own way to the UK. You can download the video here.
- Writing to your MP to raise your concerns about the UK’s proposed treatment of Afghan refugees as part of the #AntiRefugeeBill, and calling on your MP to urge the Home Secretary to provide protection, not punishment, to those fleeing the Taliban. You can take action here.
- Sign up to Asylum Matters’ mailing list to find out about more ways to take action in support of Afghan refugees and campaign for a more fair and compassionate asylum system. Just send us an email [email protected] and we’ll make sure to add you to our list.