Charities urge Government to do more to help refugees fleeing Afghanistan

17 August 2021, 06:33

Thousands of people are fleeing Afghanistan after the Taliban took back control
Thousands of people are fleeing Afghanistan after the Taliban took back control. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Charities have called on the UK to urgently do more to help refugees fleeing Afghanistan get to safety.

Amnesty International UK said amid the country's "escalating disaster" the British Government should be expanding what it branded a "grossly flawed and utterly inadequate" relocation scheme.

It comes as the UK's representative to the United Nations (UN) warned the Taliban cannot expect legitimacy in the eyes of the world if it continues to abuse human rights.

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"The UK Government must urgently expand and recast its grossly flawed and utterly inadequate relocation scheme to ensure many more people can get to a place of safety before it's too late," said Amnesty International UK's chief executive Sacha Deshmukh.

"Thousands of Afghans at serious risk of Taliban reprisals - from academics and journalists to activists and women human rights defenders - and are in danger of being abandoned to a deeply uncertain future.

"The chaos unfolding in Kabul means there are a matter of hours, not days, in which the UK could potentially save lives."

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The Jesuit Refugee Service UK (JRS UK) said immediate humanitarian protection was needed for Afghans already in the UK seeking asylum in light of the Taliban takeover, and urged UK leaders to establish safe legal routes and commit to the resettlement of refugees.

"The chaotic scenes remind us that in an emergency, refugees have little freedom on how they travel to safety or where they go, and that the journey to flee is fraught with danger," said Director Sarah Teather.

"We have, as yet, made no commitments on resettlement. We must do so, and look to provide other ways for people to enter the UK safely to claim asylum and reunite with family members.

"We must also act now to provide safety to asylum seekers already in the UK and to guarantee safety for those who will arrive in coming weeks and months."

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The unfolding events have also prompted campaigners to renew demands for the Government to abandon a planned overhaul of the asylum system, which is being considered by Parliament.

Dubbed the anti-refugee Bill by critics, it intends to make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission, with tougher sentences for those found doing so and for people smugglers.

It means, for the first time, how someone enters the UK - legally or "illegally" - will affect the progress of their asylum claim and their status in the UK, if their bid is successful.

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'I think it's appalling what we've done to the Afghan people'

A Home Office spokeswoman said the department had been "closely monitoring the situation in Afghanistan" and due to the escalations this weekend it had "removed our country policy information" - the guidance used to make decisions on asylum and human rights applications - because it was "no longer relevant to the current situation", adding: "We are urgently working to update this as soon as possible."

But officials said they would not be commenting further on operational activity.

This included refusing to confirm whether the department had suspended, or intends to scrap, any planned deportation flights to Afghanistan from the UK.

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A Government spokesperson said: "We have so far resettled over 3,300 Afghan interpreters, staff and their families who served alongside our brave military.

"Our officials are working as quickly as possible to bring more people to safety in the United Kingdom.

"No one should be in any doubt of our commitment to build upon our proud history of resettling refugees in need of protection."