On August 15, Taliban militants recaptured the Afghan capital, nearly two decades after being driven out of Kabul by the United States. Although the security forces in the capital were well funded and well equipped, they were unable to defend Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops which began in beginning of July. On August 30, the last group of US troops withdrew from Afghanistan following a massive chaotic airlift that claimed the lives of 13 soldiers while thousands of Afghans remained behind, still seeking to escape the Taliban regime.
Afghanistan has long been one of the largest countries of origin for asylum seekers in the UK, although many refugees have encountered considerable obstacles when trying to obtain adequate protection. Until recently, the British government had classified Kabul as a safe destination for the return of asylum seekers, including people from the LGBTQI + community who have been asked to be discreet about their identity to protect themselves.
Now, following the Taliban takeover, the UK Home Office has launched the Afghan Citizen Resettlement Program, a new path opened for the resettlement of Afghan refugees that will prioritize those most in need, including:
Working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to identify those most in need, the government plans to welcome around 5,000 refugees in the first year of the program and up to 20,000 in the years to come.
However, several refugee charities have asked how the government’s resettlement program would work alongside proposed changes to UK asylum systems, which criminalize people who travel to the UK independently by boat or by ship. truck. Critics of the program have pointed out that demand for resettlement programs, particularly in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, consistently falls short of allocated spots.
Legal rights of asylum seekers against refugees in the UK
Although the terms “refugee” and “asylum seeker” are often confused and are commonly used interchangeably, there are key differences between the two. A refugee is a person fleeing armed conflict or persecution. Their situation is so dangerous that they seek refuge in another country, receiving help from the country and aid organizations. They are protected by international law.
An asylum seeker, on the other hand, is someone who claims to be a refugee but whose claim has not yet been assessed. They allegedly applied for asylum because returning to their country would entail persecution. As long as a person’s claim is pending, they remain an asylum seeker.
Not all asylum seekers will be recognized as refugees, but each refugee is first and foremost an asylum seeker.
In the UK, refugee status is granted to people recognized as refugees by the Home Office, as outlined in the Refugee Convention. After obtaining official refugee status, refugees are generally allowed to stay in the country for up to five years. After this time, they can ask Residence permit for an indefinite period. As a refugee, they share the same human rights as legal residents, including:
- No torture or degrading treatment
- The right to life, liberty, security and freedom from discrimination
- Freedom of opinion and expression
- Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
Refugees in the UK are also allowed to work in any occupation and at any skill level. Those unable to work can apply for social benefits, including income assistance, jobseeker’s allowance, pension credit, employment and support allowance, universal credit and integration loan. refugees.
Asylum seekers, on the other hand, are not allowed to work in the UK. While their claim is being considered, asylum seekers have the right to apply for temporary accommodation and basic living assistance and are encouraged to volunteer. However, until asylum seekers receive a decision on whether or not they have been granted refugee status, they do not have the same rights as any of them.
The right to seek asylum is a legal right that everyone shares. Because the asylum request is a legal process, it is never illegal to seek asylum nor is it illegal to be refused asylum by a particular country. Being refused asylum simply means that a person has not been able to meet the often very strict criteria set to prove their need for protection as a refugee.
There is also no requirement by the 1951 Refugee Convention, nor by EU law, for people to seek asylum in the first safe country in which they enter. People can legitimately seek asylum in the UK if they cross its borders.
UK government urged to do more for Afghan refugees and asylum seekers
The Nationality and Borders Bill which is currently under consideration in Parliament proposes a two-tiered approach to refugee protection that would discriminate between people on the basis of their mode of arrival in the UK. However, as recent scenes from Kabul airport, regulated means of transport are simply not available for all Afghan citizens who have to flee the country.
Moreover, the case law of 2007 establishes the principle that the return of asylum seekers to areas under Taliban controltrolling – now the whole country – violate obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.
With these factors in hand, critics are urging the UK government to do more to help and protect Afghan refugees and asylum seekers. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, for example, drew up a list of recommendations to the government. Their recommendations include dropping the two-tier refugee protection system, immediately protecting all Afghans already in the UK, and expanding access to safe routes for refugees.
Adopting such recommendations would allow for a much more motivated and compassionate response to the crisis in Afghanistan, ensuring that resettlement options are generous and that people fleeing the country independently can still access the protection needed to rebuild their lives. .