Although Britain has announced plans to arrange ‘bespoke arrangements’ for Afghan refugees many asylum seekers in the UK will not agree with the recent statement from foreign secretary Dominic Raab when he stated that Britain was a ‘big hearted nation’ which was ‘always a country that provided a safe haven for those fleeing persecution’.
Over the past 20 years, the Home Office has gone to extreme lengths to return thousands of asylum seekers back to the country they had risked their lives to escape from. British officials have faced repeated criticism from international refugee organisations for the frequency with which Afghan asylum seekers have been denied formal refugee status when they turn 18, even though most have spent large parts of their childhood in the UK. Many have been forced to return to the country they left years earlier.
The extreme panic seen at Kabul airport over the past few days is a very stark illustration of the fear experienced by people who have fled Taliban controlled areas of Afghanistan over the past 20 years.
Immigration lawyer with law firm Duncan Lewis, Jamie Bell, who has represented over 100 Afghan citizens claiming asylum said those seeking refuge here had faced a ‘lengthy uphill battle to be recognised as refugees’ for years.
Until 2015, the Home Office had been operating monthly charter flights to return refused asylum seekers to Afghanistan en masse, more recently the UK government has continued to return people whose refugee claims have been rejected, to Kabul on commercial flights.
Bell went on to say that for years Afghans have fled their home country seeking refuge in the UK only to be disbelieved, detained and forcibly returned to the warzone that they left behind. “My hope now is that the culture of disbelief and disinterest towards Afghan asylum seekers becomes a thing of the past and the thousands seeking protection in the UK already are given the support and protection they deserve”.
Lawyers, charity workers and immigration experts say that a new policy for Afghan asylum seekers will need to be combined with radical rethinking of proposed new immigration legislation. There is continued concern regarding aspects of the nationality and borders bill, which is designed to penalise refugees who have been forced to make their way into this country through irregular routes, most recently on boats across the Channel.
Beth Gardiner-Smith, of Safe Passage, a charity helping unaccompanied child refugees access legal rights said: “The government cannot in all conscience talk about a compassionate response, while continuing to push through immigration legislation that punishes those refugees, many of them from Afghanistan, who come to this country through irregular routes. The reality is, even with an expanded resettlement programme, most Afghan refugees will still not have access to the official programmes”.
Administered by the UNHCR, the Syrian vulnerable person;s resettlement scheme set out to resettle 20,000 Syrians in need of protection by 2020, has been viewed positively by immigration experts. There is speculation that a new scheme could be similar in scale, but with the UNHCR warning that there could be up to 3 million internally displaced people in Afghanistan, a figure that has increased by up to 500,000 since the beginning of the year, pressure for places on any scheme will be intense.
A government scheme to resettle Afghan refugees would need to commit firm targets for the number of people to be helped in order to avoid the risk of political willingness to fulfil these commitments once the immediate crisis has passed. The government promised to support 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children in Calais in 2016 many from Afghanistan, but finally ended only helping about 380.
Director of Detention Action which has assisted large numbers of Afghan asylum seekers held in immigration removal centres over the past twenty years, Bella Sankey, said: “The UK government has forcibly removed thousands of Afghan asylum seekers to danger. It must now step up, bring these people back and create a generous resettlement scheme for those most at risk from Taliban brutality”.