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Afghanistan crisis

Help Afghan refugees: What the UK must do

Photo: Getty image

Parliament was recalled from summer recess on Wednesday 18th to hold a debate on the situation in Afghanistan. In a packed House of Commons, politicians from across the house stood up to express their deep concerns about the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in the country.

After decades of conflict, Afghanistan is experiencing one of the fastest-growing humanitarian crises in the world. Even before the recent changes in territorial control, 18.4 million people in the country were in humanitarian need. The number of internally displaced people has risen by 65% in the last two weeks alone. Many Afghans say they fear for their lives. 

The message for this Government is clear. The UK should not turn its back on the people of Afghanistan. Here are four things the UK government should do to help Afghan refugees. 

Spend UK aid money effectively

The UK government has announced it will double its humanitarian aid to Afghanistan to £286 million this year. Whilst this increase is welcome, it is now vital that the UK channels aid money directly to frontline NGOs who are best able to reach those in need, and that it uses its diplomatic leverage to push for humanitarian access to allow humanitarians to deliver assistance and to protect the rights of women. 

Offer sanctuary to Afghans who supported UK forces

The UK should not abandon people who remain in Afghanistan and bravely support UK forces. The UK’s commitment to accelerate its Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) is welcome. Yet, reports of large numbers of applicants to the UK scheme being rejected are alarming and need to be addressed. It is also critical that the UK broadens the definition of eligibility under this programme, to include others who are at risk and have supported UK efforts in Afghanistan including those working for humanitarian organisations, activists and female journalists.

Expand safe and legal routes to safety for Afghan refugees

Afghanistan’s neighbours have kept their borders closed, meaning many people will be forced to turn to dangerous and illegal routes to reach sanctuary outside of the country. This will put them at increased risk of exploitation and abuse, trafficking, forced recruitment by armed groups. Women and girl refugees will also be vulnerable to gender-based violence. 

The Government has pledged to resettle 10,000 Afghan refugees this year, and 20,000 in the longer term. This is completely inadequate given the scale of need and the UK's capacity to help. It is urgent that the Government increases the speed and scale of resettlement for Afghans who need protection now, not in five years' time.  It is also vital that the UK review any rejected asylum claims for Afghans who are still in the UK. 

Stop deportations and forced returns for Afghan asylum seekers 

Even before the recent escalation in violence, Afghanistan had produced the second-largest number of refugees in the world, after Syria. The majority of Afghan refugees have spent decades in limbo in refugee camps and urban areas across the region. A smaller number of them have endured perilous journeys to seek safety and protection in Europe, the UK and other parts of the world. 

Yet since 2008, the UK has returned over 15,000 refused asylum seekers to Afghanistan. Afghanistan is clearly not a safe country.  

The UK must immediately halt deportations as a matter of urgency, including those in immigration detention centres. It is critical that the UK urgently reviews all asylum applications for Afghans remaining in the UK in light of recent developments.

Read our UK director Melanie Ward’s reaction to the parliamentary debate.