Responding to the urgency of the situation in Afghanistan

20 August 2021: From a number of members of the QARN Steering Group:

We understand the urgency of the situation for those fleeing Afghanistan, and also those already in UK who are in the asylum process, or living in the hidden economy without papers at this time.

The situation also provokes us to act, and thoughts in Meetings are turning to offering sponsorship to those who will be brought to UK having been assessed as very vulnerable under the scheme put in place by the UK Government.

These schemes appear attractive to people wanting to do something. They can also bring a range of difficulties to the people offered support, and those offering to help.

People must make their own decisions and there will be others with experience amongst members of the QARN network.

As a preferred alternative, Meetings could work with their local Councils to encourage them to engage with and manage the hosting, and Meetings become involved in offering a welcoming support for the new arrivals which may be by way of English lessons, craft circles, drop-ins, kite-flying opportunities, and other relevant activities. It is often very helpful to local charities and organisations who are already working in this area of creating a welcome to have support, be it a donation or offer of help, or to engage with the UNHCR and Red Cross appeals for the 3.5 million displaced and people in Afghanistan itself.

In many places in UK, there will be people from Afghanistan living under the radar because their cases have not been approved. Please pressure your MP to appeal for the Government to grant them settled status now.

Updated 28 August 2021: This speaks for itself, as Kabul flights stop following the Taliban’s take-over in Afghanistan: BBC: Afghanistan: Final UK troops leave Kabul

What happens to Afghan refugees coming to the UK?

  • Arrivals on official flights enter a 10-day Covid quarantine in a hotel
  • Government officials and local authorities are trying to find them permanent homes
  • A shortage of suitable accommodation means many will be placed in hotels
  • Some will get refugee status and can live in the UK permanently
  • Others will get a five-year visa to live and work in the UK – and can then apply for permanent residence
  • Afghans arriving independently will enter the normal system for asylum claims – which has a backlog of 70,000 people
  • These people cannot settle, or work, while their claims are considered

Updated 26 August 2021: The Independent – Priti Patel urges Afghans not to flee to UK and instead wait for safe routes – but fails to outline plans

Priti Patel is under pressure to outline how the Home Office will offer safe routes to the UK for Afghans fleeing the Taliban after she said they should not attempt to reach Britain via unauthorised means.

The home secretary told reporters on Thursday that the government wanted to “avoid” Afghans crossing the Channel with people smugglers and pledged to ensure that those who do not manage to escape from their country can be resettled in Britain.

But campaigners said there were “still many questions” about how these routes would be implemented and warned that Ms Patel’s approach “failed to recognise the reality of conflict and persecution”, warning that many Afghan refugees will have already set off to reach the UK.

Read more:

Updated 24 August 2021: The Independent – Hundreds of Afghans in refugee camps waiting more than a year for UK to fulfill resettlement promise

Hundreds of Afghans who were promised resettlement in Britain more than a year and a half ago are still in refugee camps waiting to be transferred to the UK.

The Home Office is coming under pressure to transfer around 200 Afghan refugees whom it accepted before March 2020, but whose cases were put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, the department announced that it would introduce a new Afghan resettlement scheme that would offer sanctuary to 5,000 people from the country in the first year, and 20,000 in the “long term”.

But the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which aids global resettlement, told The Independent it was concerned that the scheme would mean a further delay for hundreds of already displaced Afghans, and hundreds more refugees from other parts of the world who had been informed they would be resettled in Britain but have been left in limbo.

Read more:

The Guardian – Afghan refugees need help now, not in a few years. Britain’s asylum system is shameful

Horrifying scenes are unfolding in Afghanistan. Taliban forces are reportedly going door to door, making blacklists of anyone who has worked with the former government. Even if Britain had not played a part in what’s unravelling right now, we would have a moral duty to act.

In this context, announcements from some UK regional leaders that they will accept Afghan refugees are welcome. But a years-long wait for resettlement cannot be the only protection we offer. The events unfolding in Afghanistan, with people forced to flee without a moment’s notice, show what it means to become a refugee and call into question an already rotten asylum system, which is due to go from bad to worse if the government’s new borders bill is passed.

The bill creates a discriminatory two-tier asylum system which falsely differentiates between “good” and “bad” refugees based on how they entered the UK. Instead of assessing need, the government plans to look at refugees’ means of arrival. Anyone found “guilty” of arriving by boat or other means without prior permission (ie the vast majority of people seeking asylum), for example, could be criminalised and face up to four years in prison.

Read more:

Updated 22 August 2021: The Guardian: UK plans offshore asylum centres in Pakistan and Turkey for Afghans

Britain plans to establish offshore asylum centres for Afghan refugees in countries such as Pakistan and Turkey, as ministers admit that the UK will not be able to rescue those eligible for resettlement before troops leave Kabul.

The defence secretary, Ben Wallace, said in a newspaper article on Sunday that the UK planned to establish a series of processing hubs across the region outside Afghanistan, for Afghans it had “an obligation to”.

At least 1,429 Afghans have been evacuated from Kabul since last Friday, as part of the Arap relocation scheme designed to help interpreters and others who have helped the British during their 20 years in Afghanistan.

But it is estimated that a similar number – or more – remain in the country. The emergency airlift was continuing on Sunday, with RAF flights operating despite a crush at the airport gates as desperate Afghans try to flee.

Read more:

17 August 2021: Guardian: Tories and Labour MPs call for asylum in UK for refugees amid fears high-profile women will be targeted

Boris Johnson is coming under pressure from his own MPs to urgently set up a new resettlement scheme for Afghan refugees, amid fears that people with links to the west and high-profile women will be targeted by the Taliban.

Damian Green, the former cabinet minister, led Conservative calls for the UK to allow refugees safe passage to Britain, while Labour leader Keir Starmer and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon pressed for a programme to accommodate them.

“There are times and places where we should be strict with asylum applications. Afghanistan today is the exact opposite. We should take anyone who can make a case,” Green said.

While Canada has said it will take 20,000 Afghan refugees and the US appears likely to resettle up to 30,000, the UK only has a scheme for Afghans that have been employed by the military and embassy, such as interpreters, with about 2,000 settled so far.

A Home Office source said a new scheme was “in the works” but details were still being worked out. It is understood the programme could be similar in scale to the scheme for Syrian refugees, which took in 20,000 people over five years.

Read more: UK ‘must do the right thing’ for Afghan refugees

Comment by Tim Farron

What we are all seeing happening in Afghanistan on our TVs is truly desperate and heart breaking. I just can’t imagine the sheer panic and fear people must be feeling as the Taliban increases its control over the country. People trying to find anyway to leave to protect themselves and their families from the brutality of the Taliban.

The majority of Afghan refugees will go to neighbouring countries; to Iran and Pakistan but these countries already host many of the existing 2.6 million Afghan refugees. We need to step up to this global humanitarian need, we need to play our part and lead the way in doing the right, responsible and compassionate thing. Why should we be expecting other countries to keep their borders open to Afghans fleeing if we in the UK aren’t doing our bit?

We have a duty to these people – a humanitarian duty but also a moral duty due to the way that our misjudged withdrawal caused such rapid and disastrous consequences. We also owe the hundreds of British soldiers who died, not to abandon those who they fought to protect.

‘Global Britain’ sounds like a sick joke if, having turned our back on Afghanistan, we then turn our back on those fleeing from the consequences of our betrayal.