The takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban has horrified the world – including everyone here at specialist immigration lawyers, Optimus Law.
With horrific images of people so desperate to flee the capital that they are risking their lives clinging to taking-off aircraft and reports of people being shot in the streets, Afghanistan is facing a humanitarian crisis. A huge number of refugees are expected as people look to escape their homeland, raising questions about where they will go.
At times like this, it is right that countries around the world who can help should nail their colours to the mast quickly and confirm what they are willing to do. Not only will this give a beacon of hope to those who are looking to escape a life spent living under the Taliban regime, it will encourage the international community to step up their collective efforts to help the refugees.
However, while some countries have offered Afghans safe-haven, others are intent on fortifying borders. Let’s analyse the differing reactions to the developing crisis from some key countries around the world.
The UK’s stance to Afghan refugees
UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has announced that women, children, and religious minorities will be prioritised in a new UK resettlement scheme for 20,000 Afghan refugees. The scheme is similar in size and scope to one for Syrians under which 20,000 people have been resettled since 2014, prioritising survivors of torture, people with serious medical conditions and women with children.
The scheme will allow 20,000 Afghans to settle in the UK, expected to happen over five years. Of that total, it is planned that 5,000 will arrive by the end of 2021. The programme will run separately to the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap), launched in April, which offers relocation for those who aided British operations in Afghanistan. The home secretary, Priti Patel, said refugees could “start a new life in safety in the UK, away from the tyranny and oppression they now face”.
Is criticism of the UK’s Afghan immigration policy justified?
The Guardian newspaper has claimed that for some 20 years, the Home Office has gone to extreme lengths to return Afghans to the country they risked their lives to flee.
The newspaper claims that despite foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, stating that Britain is a “big-hearted nation” which had “always provided safe-haven for those fleeing persecution”, the truth is that British officials have faced repeated criticism from international refugee organisations. This criticism is largely for the frequency with which young Afghan asylum seekers have been denied formal refugee status when they turn 18, despite having spent large parts of their childhood in the UK; many of these adolescents have subsequently been forcibly returned to the country they left years earlier.
Indeed, until early this week, the official Home Office position, set out on its website that Kabul was a safe place to which refused asylum seekers should be returned. However, to be fair to the UK government, who could have predicted that the Taliban would seize control of the capital so quickly and that the regime of Afghanistan would change almost overnight?
What are other countries doing?
Australia: Prime minister, Scott Morrison, says the country will provide about 3,000 humanitarian visas to Afghan nationals this year. However, he has made it very clear that these will only be provided through proper channels. He is reported as saying ‘We will not be allowing people to enter Australia illegally, even at this time. Our policy has not changed’
Canada: Forbes outlines how Canada will take in up to 20,000 Afghan refugees, including women leaders, government workers and others facing threats from the Taliban.
Iran: The Independent reports how Iran has set up temporary refugee camps along the border with Afghanistan in preparation for thousands of civilians who are expected to flee both the fighting and the Taliban’s brutal rule. Tehran said on Sunday it was preparing to house Afghans escaping their country in three border provinces – but warned that they should return when it is safe to do so.
Pakistan: In June, Prime Minister Imran Khan said Pakistan would seal its border with Afghanistan in the event the Taliban took control. He said that Islamabad did not want another influx of refugees from its neighbour, as officials were struggling to cope with the estimated three million Afghan migrants already residing in Pakistan.
Switzerland: Reuters outlines how Switzerland has said it will not accept large groups of Afghan refugees arriving directly from the country, but instead will review asylum applications on a case-by-case basis. Humanitarian visas will be considered for people facing an immediate, concrete, serious and directly life-threatening threat, the government has said. Applicants must also have a close and current connection to Switzerland.
Turkey: Al Jazeera has reported how the arrival of Afghan migrants on Turkey’s eastern border has become a hot political topic in the country, with Erdoğan’s political opponents pressing his government to take strong measures to stop the influx. The government has responded by stepping up the construction of a border wall with Iran in recent days.
USA: Joe Biden has authorized up to $500m from an emergency fund to meet unexpected, urgent refugee needs stemming from the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, including for Afghan special immigration visa (SIV) applicants. The US is preparing to begin evacuating thousands of Afghan SIV applicants who risk retaliation from Taliban militants who have taken over the country, because they worked for the US government.