Afghanistan: Britain should respect its responsibility to Afghan people
Following the withdrawal of US and British troops, the past month has seen the quick, relentless advance of the Taliban in Afghanistan. These developments have brought the decade-long conflict back to the centre of worldwide focus while confirming what many already knew: that the notion that Western troops were helping stabilise the region was hollow propaganda. Our news has been dominated by the Taliban seizing control of the country in a power grab that has shocked the world.
From the first attacks in August to Tuesday’s announcement of an interim Taliban government, we have witnessed the swift capitulation of a nation that the public was told would be “rebuilt” by Western forces. Instead, it sees its citizens desperately latching on to a moving US Air Force plane in the attempt to flee.
United States of America fled Afghanistan leaving behind innocent Afghans.
These shocking visuals from Kabul today describe the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Betrayal. Escape. Lack of empathy. No clarity. Failure. Chaos. pic.twitter.com/UCDMC7CffT
— Aditya Raj Kaul (@AdityaRajKaul) August 16, 2021
Mohammad Asif, a former Afghan refugee who moved to Scotland in 2001, has been campaigning for immigrant and refugee rights for years. Director of the Afghan Human Rights Foundation in Glasgow, he is an outspoken anti-war activist and has recently held a protest to condemn the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan.
He told Bella: “It is the biggest betrayal of the Afghan people in the 21st century. Britain and America have abandoned the people of Afghanistan. They have tied their hands and thrown them in the sea.”
Asif points out that the UK and the US are responsible for the events that have been happening in Afghanistan. “They deposed the Taliban regime in 2001 after 9-11,” he said. “Britain and America are the two biggest countries which contributed more money and more troops, so they have every moral responsibility.”
For this reason – but not exclusively – he has been urging both the UK and Scottish Government not to cap the number of Afghan refugees the Union will welcome. Instead of tightening up Britain’s already strict immigration and asylum controls, he suggests Home Secretary Priti Patel and the UK Government should be extending the right to asylum to far more than the planned 20,000 Afghan refugees. “They think, by taking 20,000 Afghans or 50,000 or 100,000 Afghans, out of Afghanistan, they can justify their withdrawal. It is absolutely nonsense,” he said.
As mentioned before, Asif is an anti-war activist. Despite not wanting any foreign troops in Afghanistan, he said: “After 9/11, when Britain and America and NATO went to Afghanistan, they should have established a government which was acceptable to the people of Afghanistan.” Instead, “[they] empowered the most vicious warlords, drug lords, and mass murderers and then they left them there. They have empowered the Taliban again in 2021, and they are responsible for them.”
Men and women fearing for their safety under Taliban rule have been trying to leave the country. According to the United Nations, thousands of people are scrambling to flee Afghanistan. Up to half a million Afghans could be displaced by the end of the year.
Despite the organisation’s call on neighbouring countries to keep their borders open, Uzbekistan, which borders the north of Afghanistan, closed its main crossing point to “ensure security”. No plans to re-open the borders have been proposed.
Similarly, Pakistan, which has the longest border with Afghanistan, also said it will not accept refugees. According to a BBC report, about 6,000-7,000 people would normally travel between the two countries on a daily basis. Nowadays, however, there are hardly 50 people standing on the Afghan side to enter Pakistan.
Since the evacuation began, 123,000 civilians have been evacuated by US forces and its coalition partners after the Taliban took control of the capital on 14 August. It is, however, unclear exactly how many of those were Afghan nationals. According to the British Ministry of Defence, the UK had flown out more than 15,000 people and some 8,000 of them were Afghans.
The current crisis adds to the 2.2 million Afghan refugees already in neighbouring countries and the 3.5 million people currently displaced within Afghanistan’s borders.
The Home Office has said it will take in 5,000 Afghans in 2021 as part of the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme. The goal is to resettle 20,000 Afghan people over the next five years, focusing on those at greatest risk from the Taliban, such as those who have worked with the British military or government in Afghanistan.
Seventy-three individuals and 60 families are currently expected to arrive or have arrived in Scotland under the afore-mentioned resettlement programme.
News agency PA forwarded a request for information to Scottish councils, enquiring about the Afghan refugee resettlement scheme. A total of 25 of the country’s 32 councils responded and shared an outline of their plans.
Among the respondents, Glasgow and Inverclyde councils plan on rehoming the highest number of refugees – Glasgow is understood to have taken in 73 people since June, while six families have been welcomed in Inverclyde since August 31.
The rest of the country will also partake in the scheme. Fife will be welcoming 10 families, Aberdeenshire eight, North Ayrshire and Scottish Borders five each. Perth and Kinross is taking three but possibly up to six, Dumfries and Galloway between two and four, Falkirk two, South Lanarkshire and South Ayrshire up to three, while the Western Isles has set aside two properties for them.
The Home Office, however, continues to threaten Afghan asylum seekers in Britain with deportation to a country that evidence shows is not safe. In addition, the Government is proceeding with Patel’s draconian Nationality and Borders Bill which – as Bella explained in July 2021:
“could refuse asylum seekers entry to the UK if they have not gained prior permission to enter– a process that is extremely difficult for those facing urgent and immediate danger– even criminalising them and sentencing them to anything between six months and four years in prison. It would also limit their right to appeal or challenge a court decision. Furthermore, it would limit their rights to access public benefits by imposing ‘no recourse to public funds’ and put an end to family reunification for those coming to the UK through other countries. By criminalising asylum seekers, the Bill would push many to seek more dangerous channels of entry to the UK, thereby putting their lives at increased risk.”
This could mean that, while the UK is accepting 20,000 Afghan refugees, they might not be as welcoming of Afghans entering the country through other channels.
The Afghan community in Scotland is made of more than 4000 people who are deeply scared and worried about their friends and relatives still in Afghanistan. Speaking to The National, Asif said: “It’s like when you wake up from night terrors – you don’t know where you are and how you feel. Everybody here has plenty of relatives, plenty of friends there.”
Abdul Bostani of the Scottish Unity Football League and Glasgow Afghan United added: “This will not stop, there will be resistance. It is already forming, we are on the edge of civil war right now. We live in fear for our families and friends.”
The community is trying to do its best to help their fellow citizens to flee: the situation can feel, however, overwhelming. Helping Afghans currently in Afghanistan is not easy, but there are actions that activists believe can help their cause. The Scottish Refugee Council, for instance, has shared a list of ways people in the UK can help, including:
Contact your MP
You can put pressure on the UK Government to offer immediate safety and support to Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban by contacting your MP. The SRC also offers an easy to use template you can send.
Make a donation
Donating to organisations helping refugees will provide them with “essential information, advice and emotional support to help them rebuild their lives. It will also enable [the organisations] to stand up for refugee rights and give people seeking safety a voice.”
Listen to people with lived experience.
Follow prominent Afghan voices as well as advocates for human rights with experience with this particular crisis or refugees.
Host a refugee
If you visit Room for Refugees, you’ll find plenty of information on how to host a person from a refugee background.
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