Vulnerable Afghans face increasing danger every day government fails to open the resettlement scheme
The government needs to rethink the Nationality and Borders Bill, which would criminalise Afghans who take irregular routes to find safety in the UK.
On August 18th, three days after the fall of Kabul, British female MPs from all parties pledged their support to their Afghan counterparts. “We stand in solidarity with all women politicians in Afghanistan,” their letter read. Signees included Victoria Atkins, now the government’s minister for Afghan resettlement.
A month later, an Afghan female MP I know is in fear of her life. She moves from house to house, knowing that sooner or later, she will run out of money, food, or friends she can trust. As she was not employed directly by the British government, she is not eligible for the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP). She can only wait for the Afghan citizens’ resettlement programme to open. And it remains closed.
“Each day they remain in the country, the risk of the Taliban catching up with them increases,” Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood warned of Afghan interpreters who didn’t make it into Kabul airport on those desperate days in August. He could just as well have been talking about female MPs. In the past week, the Taliban has shown its true colours with bans on girls attending high school, and female government workers told to stay at home. The Taliban are also accused of beating and shooting dead a female policewoman in front of her family. There may be other atrocities we are yet to hear about – the Taliban are cutting the internet in some areas, making it easier to target the opposition.
The government needs to open safe routes and at the same time, acknowledge that not everyone will access them
The female politician currently hiding from these armed misogynists has few options. She sent me her identity documents several weeks ago, and I submitted them to the Foreign Office, but she is yet to receive confirmation that she is eligible for one of the resettlement schemes. She would be safer if she could cross the border, but it is a dangerous journey with no guarantees at the end.
“We could be stopped, and then what?” she asked me. “I could be shot on the road.” Even if she successfully makes it to the border, if she attempts to cross without proof of her eligibility for resettlement, she could be turned around by border forces and delivered straight into the Taliban’s hands.
There are many others like her, as the outline of the Afghan citizen’s resettlement programme acknowledges. Those who stood up for freedom of speech and the rule of law, like judges and journalists. Those who are vulnerable, like LGBT+ people, women and girls at risk, and religious minorities. Academics, like my own father, who was forced to flee the Taliban in the 1990s.
The government has pledged to resettle 5,000 Afghans under this scheme by the end of the year, but we are only three months away from December. If it is to deliver on its promise, it needs to open the Afghan citizens’ resettlement programme now. At least if we can organise the paperwork for these people at this time, they can cross the border at the first opportunity, rather than putting their lives in more danger just to face the prospect of being turned away.
Furthermore, the government needs to rethink the Nationality and Borders Bill, which would criminalise Afghans who take irregular routes to find safety in the UK. The fact is, the resettlement scheme is not even open yet, and when people need to save their lives, they will take whatever route they can. Yet under the Bill, if an Afghan woman fleeing the Taliban turned up on our shores, the government would turn her away. That is not what Britain is about. It is also excellent propaganda for the extremists now in power in Kabul, who will hold it up as proof that nobody cares about Afghans except the Taliban.
The government needs to open safe routes and at the same time, acknowledge that not everyone will access them. Every day it fails to act, vulnerable people like the female politician wait in a terrifying limbo. “If the UK government can’t help us, it is much better for them to tell us so we can be ready,” she told me, in our heartbreaking conversation. “I’d rather kill myself than let the Taliban take me and kill me.”
Shabnam Nasimi is the founder and director of Conservative Friends of Afghanistan.
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