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Second Class Refugees

Kaitlin Dryburgh

Two years have passed since the UK and US completed their embarrassing withdrawal of their troops from Afghanistan. I say this with no disrespect to the service men and women who found themselves with the incredibly difficult and heart wrenching job of evacuating thousands of Afghans in need, and at the end of the day handing over the keys to the very people they had been fighting for over two decades. This was solely politically embarrassing and a humanitarian tragedy. The Taliban managed to storm through Afghanistan in 10 days, 20 years of involvement from the UK and US evaporated in no time at all, as did the facade that our involvement there was actually making some long-term difference. Unfortunately, it was all in vain and the weak security crumbled oh so easily.

Now it’s business as usual. This month brought about the burning of musical instruments, a further step towards an outright ban on music in general. Women and girls have just about been banished from society once again, with no access to education, their capability to be financially independent quashed and premises such as beauty parlours shut down again limiting the ability of Afghan women to converse and find solidarity with each other.

The UK’s departure from Afghanistan brought about a mad rush to get citizens home, those in potential danger and those Afghans who had helped the UK and US. The Afghanistan resettlement scheme was the answer for those who had stayed loyal to the UK and as of 2023 21,000 Afghans had resettled in the UK via the scheme.

Except two years on from the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, many of those who gained residency via the the resettlement scheme are still living in temporary accommodation and now many have the threat of being removed from their temporary accommodation. Thousands received a letter in May on behalf of Home Secretary Suella Braverman stating that they would need to find alternative accommodation, or declare themselves homeless. Which for many is the new reality. Local authorities have warned that one in five Afghan families are at risk of being homeless if they were kicked out of their temporary accommodation. Subsequently all over the UK many families have already declared themselves homeless due to the fact they can’t secure private accommodation, according to local authorities. One of those families have been living in a one-bedroom hotel for two years, a couple and their child. Unable to convince a private landlord to let them sign a lease on a supermarket worker’s salary they have been left with no choice but to present themselves as homeless. For this family they’ve actually reviewed their situation and decided on hindsight they would have stayed and rolled the dice with the Taliban.

What does that tell us about how we treat those who are need of refuge, regardless of the fact that these individuals have previously put their lives on the line for the UK. Councils have for long said to the government that they do not have the appropriate funding or resources to help those Afghans who have come to the UK for help. The government was right to help those in need and stand by those who and done the same, yet the execution and long-term planning hasn’t been given enough attention.

The UK’s government’s immigration policy is perhaps even more delusional than that of its drugs policy, it makes absolutely no sense and it exacerbates the situation. A political farce, but that’s not exactly news. The Rwanda plan sees taxpayers paying an extra £63,000 to have an individual relocated there, that’s not even considering the moral implications of sending people to a country with a track record in human rights violations. We have made it clear that we won’t make it easy for those to gain access to this country, no matter the means, as our official routes are in no shape or form a walk in the park. As was made perfectly clear by the worldwide story of the pilot who fought alongside both the UK and US, yet when he was unable to secure transport to make his way to the evacuation he became stranded and in hiding. Again, unable to find his way to the UK through the resettlement programme for various reasons he entered ‘illegally’ via a small boat. Now he finds himself in limbo as he too was told he would be taken to Rwanda. Although publicity from an investigation by the Independent swung support in his favour, even Biden’s administration was asked about the pilot’s situation, his future still isn’t undecided.

Afghan refugees were treated comparably well compared to other nationalities, there was a designated resettlement programme, which is more than can be said for many others. Yet it seems that there is a hierarchy of refugees, there is a clear line between the first and second class, those who present as perhaps more worthy for help. This has been highly debated when it came to Ukrainian refugees, it was great to see pathways open for those to come over to Ukraine, sponsorship became available and it seemed that the UK really had their welcome banners for those coming over seeking refuge. The support, although still lacking in some areas seems to be much more comprehensive for those coming from Ukraine as they still remain one of the only nationalities with a clearer and easier pathway to the UK. However this isn’t the case for Syrian refugees, for example, coming to the UK. In theory both were being targeted by the Russians, both groups had to pack and leave because life become too unbearable living in a war zone. The Migration Observatory truly believes that the system is not equal, as is demonstrated by the fact that one of the top nationalities of those arriving via small boats are from Afghanistan, while Ukrainians represent almost zero, yet both have resettlement schemes. We can’t ignore the fact that racism plays a part in this. Ukraine is a white country by majority and compared to many of those arriving in small boats, they are not.

Charities have warned of the clear differences between, 1st class refugees such as the Ukrainians being welcomed into homes where as the 2nd class have to put up with staying in a hotel for possibly over a year with just over £8 a week to keep them going. For many Ukrainians coming to Scotland their first stop was one of the new cruise ships. Although living in a small cabin with perhaps no window still isn’t an idealist living situation it is however in great contrast with the refugees living on the new barge that has been labelled as a huge fire-risk by firefighters, a Grenfell 2.0.

“Stop the boats” is the message pushed upon us by Sunak and his merry gang, yet there is without question an appetite for it. Many people are lapping it up and from the images of the first asylum seekers boarding the ‘new’ barge it doesn’t really seem to bother all too many that this country is now in the business of floating death-traps. It doesn’t matter if those individuals have been victims of sex-trafficking, torture, war, perhaps even heroes when fighting against the Taliban, they arrived on a small boat and are therefore villains. Protests outside hotels, violence and barrage of negative stories in the media is the result. Although for many the route to legally get into the UK and apply for entry is almost impossible.

Perhaps our ability to digest terrible and sad news from around the world has been saturated in recent years, closing the door on our compassion for more than one group of people. Yet in the face of the ‘stop the boats’ nonsense it seems that we are in desperate need of some compassion, when more are concerned about a submarine full of a handful of millionaires but not the many dying while also on a small boat, I think we need to review our priorities. In terms of practical solutions, instead of bringing in floating prisons we should be investing in clearing the backlog in immigration cases, and reforming the system so that those fleeing places like Afghanistan for example have an opportunity to entre via a safer route and don’t feel the need to make a life or death journey. This option should be available to all, not the select few.

6 thoughts on “Second Class Refugees”

  1. The majority of Ukrainians who have moved to our country to escape the war are women and children – usually their menfolk have stayed behind to fight. They don’t want to live with us forever but just until it is safe to return home. This stands in sharp contrast to the images of boats full of predominantly young men who are crossing the English Channel, many from countries like Albania where there is no war.
    I believe most people are sympathetic to the flight of genuine refugees who are fleeing for their lives but far less sympathetic towards economic migrants who abuse the asylum system by entering the country without legal right and then claim asylum to prevent them being promptly deported, in full knowledge that it will take years for their asylum claims to be assessed and, in that time, should they happen to father a child in the UK, they will be able to fight any deportation as being against their human rights due to it depriving them of their right to a family life.
    Therefore, the solution is not barges or hotel rooms to house people – the solution is to have a system in place that can adjudicate asylum claims in days and promptly remove those whose claims are rejected. The certainty that those making bogus asylum claims will be quickly removed will be the most effective way of dissuading economic migrants from risking the dangerous channel crossing.

    1. As an aside, I am aware that huge numbers of people are seeking legal permission to move to the UK to live and work. Scotland needs more workers in lots of sectors of the economy and I wish the rules for legal immigration were eased so that more could join us. I think that these people trying to move to our country legally must feel very cheated as they watch the news to see large numbers of people entering the country illegally and being allowed to stay. Our immigration system must be compassionate towards genuine asylum seekers but, thereafter, give preference to non asylum seekers wishing to move to the country legally over bogus asylum seekers seeking to play the system.

  2. Many asylum seekers (and I’d like someone to tell me what an “illegal immigrant” is given there are internationally recognised rights to allow people to seek asylum) are from countries that we have played a hand in destroying the local infrastructure – Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and of course the Ukraine which is a proxy NATO war. A more effective way to reduce asylum claims would be to formulate an ethical foreign policy that a avoided war and sanctions as alternatives to diplomacy.

    And we should seek to avoid simplistic narratives of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ asylum seekers. People coming to the UK generally want the same things as all of us – somewhere safe to live, protection for their families, the chance of work, good neighbours etc.

    I forget who said that how we treat the most vulnerable is a yardstick of a good society. But we are clearly falling very far short.

    1. Official figures show that in the year to March 2023, Albanians constituted the largest single nationality arriving in the UK via small boats, accounting for some 26% of the total.

  3. We are hosting a Ukrainian Mum and son, and whilst I agree with Kaitlin’s analysis, the awesome British bureaucracy is hard to negotiate even for a competent English speaker (Mum) and my partner and I trying to provide information and support. So I cannot imagine how impossible it must be for non-English or limited English speakers who are Afghani, Syrian, Albanian, Romanian, Palestinian or others might find it. She is absolutely right when she says we need a more compassionate and prompt system. Currently it’s a complete binfest.

  4. Since 2010 around 70% of people resettled in the Uk have been from Syria (where the west has fought a covert war until the reestablishment of Assad). Iran (a target of a US led sanctions) has been the biggest source of asylum seekers every year since 2016 until 2022 when Albanian people constituted the largest single proportion – about half the number of people from countries targeted by the US (and of course the uk) Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

    If you want to reduce the need for people to seek asylum then restructuring our interventionist foreign policy is something we should look to.

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