Afghanistan refugees: Just how big-hearted is UK towards those fleeing Taliban? – Ian Swanson

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Edinburgh is set to give temporary shelter to 250 people fleeing the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and welcome 50 Afghans to resettle permanently in the Capital.

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It's the city playing its part in what is an international response to the tragic events which we have watched unfold on our TV screens as the United States and its allies end their 20-year presence and desperate Afghans try to escape a new regime with an appalling human rights record, especially about women.

The UK has evacuated 15,000 people from Kabul in the last two weeks, but many eligible for resettlement in the UK have been left behind – and it is not clear how they are now going to get out and make their way here.

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The UK has so far pledged to take 5,000 Afghan refugees this year and 20,000 over five years – figures which opposition parties say should be higher.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said Britain is "a big-hearted nation" which has "always provided safe haven for those fleeing persecution".

But one might be forgiven for thinking his government is out to change all that.

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Afghans try to reach foreign forces to show their credentials at Kabul Airport (Picture: Akhter Gulfam/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)Afghans try to reach foreign forces to show their credentials at Kabul Airport (Picture: Akhter Gulfam/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
Afghans try to reach foreign forces to show their credentials at Kabul Airport (Picture: Akhter Gulfam/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Not only has Britain been sending Afghan asylum-seekers back to the war zone they had fled, it is currently bringing in legislation which will effectively block refugees from Afghanistan – and anywhere else – who do not arrive here by authorised routes.

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The UN Refugee Agency estimates 30,000 people have been fleeing Afghanistan every week over the summer, 80 per cent of them women and children.

Afghanistan has for a long time accounted for a large proportion of asylum-seekers coming to the UK, but until just days ago the government classed Kabul as a safe place and up until the end of last year it was rejecting more than half the asylum applications from Afghan nationals.

And now the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is passing through Westminster, will make it even harder for refugees from the world’s worst regimes to find protection here.

The legislation shifts the focus away from the danger, terror or persecution a refugee faces in their own country and instead concentrates on the route they took to get to the UK –supposedly in an effort to deter dangerous boat journeys across the Channel.

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But the new law ignores the simple reality that crossing borders without the required legal papers is often the only choice for people fleeing for their lives.

The Scottish Refugee Council has warned the proposals “threaten the very principle of refugee protection in the UK”.

Green MP Caroline Lucas has noted: “Under the terms of the Bill, any Afghan woman who flees with her children and arrives in Britain by an ‘irregular route’, perhaps in a small boat across the Channel, won’t be welcomed or protected. She’ll be criminalised.”

MPs have argued those seeking asylum should make their claim in the first safe country they arrive in, but the internationally agreed Refugee Convention makes no such requirement.

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And any principle like that would logically leave Greece and Italy, as the most common entry points, to cope with the vast majority of asylum claims, while Britain, furthest away from most conflict zones, would get hardly any.

If the government is sincere about a “big-hearted” response to refugees from Afghanistan, it will surely drop this cruel Bill.

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