‘There are other refugees who also left everything behind. It’s not fair to say that if they come through irregular routes, they should be detained,’ Shakib Nasery, who fled Afghanistan as a child, tells May Bulman
As thousands of people try to flee Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover, the UK government is pushing through a Bill that would see asylum seekers who arrive on British shores via unauthorised routes penalised and considered for removal from the country.
The plans would also enable immigration officers to intercept vessels in British waters and take them to foreign ports – a controversial practice known as pushback – as well as send asylum seekers overseas while their claims are processed, known as offshore processing.
The proposals in the Bill have prompted a backlash from a range of prominent organisations including the UNHCR, which has warned that they present a “profound threat” to the international refugee protection system and accused the UK of trying to “wash its hands” of its international responsibilities.
Home secretary Priti Patel has defended them, saying the Home Office was expanding safe routes to the UK. But her department is facing mounting criticism for delays in the opening of the Afghan resettlement scheme, which was announced in August but is yet to open.
Meanwhile, Afghans in the UK who arrived via unauthorised routes and were granted refugee status are increasingly worried about what will happen to their compatriots who, under the new plans, will be punished for doing the same thing. The Independent spoke to some of them.
Shakib Nasery, 37, restaurateur in Coventry
When I came to this country, I was empty handed. All I had was a backpack and my clothes. But I have been fortunate. I made something of my life, and I live with my family – my wife and children, my mum and my brother.
There are other refugees who also left everything behind. It’s not fair to say that if they come through irregular routes, they should be detained. When my life was in danger in Afghanistan, I couldn’t look for a regular route – my priority at the time was to get out of the country to a safe place. The government has got this completely wrong.
I would love to see our government give refugees the chance to rebuild their lives. They come with lots of talents and I’m sure they will do well in this society. We want our government to provide the opportunity for them to thrive, rather than criminalise refugees and asylum seekers.
Shakib fled from Afghanistan asa child after his father was murdered, before putting down roots in the UK
Peymana Assad, 30, London councillor
I came to the UK as a child refugee aged three because of a brutal civil war between different factions of the Mujahideen who were fighting each other for power after the Soviet withdrawal. My pregnant mother landed at London Heathrow Airport with three kids under five.
The current situation in Afghanistan is a failure of enormous proportions for the international community. The situation has reignited trauma in the hearts of the world’s second largest refugee population – of which I consider myself a member of.
Many members of my family and friends live in Afghanistan across different provinces, from the north to the south of the country.
Safe routes for refuge have always been incredibly expensive and difficult to obtain for Afghans, even more so now that the Taliban regime is back in control. The Home Office’s policy will further endanger the lives of refugees.
Cllr Assad is a Labour councillor in Harrow and the first elected official of Afghan origin in the UK
Dr Waheed Arian, 38, doctor and charity founder
From the humanitarian perspective, these are people who, like myself, have fled bombs, rockets and persecution. They’re not coming here for a better life. They’re primarily coming here for safety. For people to leave their homes, their loved ones, it takes a lot of courage.
People need to understand that there are no official routes for them available. I see that from my own family and many colleagues who are still in Afghanistan. They want to flee, but they can’t find an official route.
So they either have to go to refugee camps in neighbouring countries, where the conditions are extremely harsh – and I’ve experienced them myself – or they will try to find safety somewhere else, going from one country to another, and may ultimately end up on our shores.
That may be because they have a friend or family here, or they might speak English. Anything that gives them a good start in life is part of safety. Safety isn’t just being safe from bombs – we need to look at the mental health of these people as well.
Waheed Arian came to Britain aged 15 after fleeing the war Afghanistan. He is now a doctor and has founded the charity Arian Teleheal, as well as writing an autobipgraphy called In the Wars
Bahar, women’s rights activist in Leeds
Right now, my sister in Afghanistan is hiding and we can’t talk. She has no passport because her papers were at the embassy and then everything happened. All she’s left with is her national ID card.
Many, many families wanted to escape before the Taliban came to Kabul – everyone was applying for visas to go to India, Pakistan, or Iran. All of a sudden, the Taliban arrived and nobody had a chance to get their documentation. They couldn’t even go to the bank.
Someone who worked with the UK might have been flown out legally, but their brother, who worked for the Afghan government, and whose life might also be in danger, could be treated as “illegal” under this new law.
Afghans deserve better – it’s not their fault they have to claim asylum. The UK government started everything, along with the US, and now they need to support us.
Bahar arrived in the UK in the back of a lorry while heavily pregnant after her family was murdered by the Taliban
Gulwali Passarlay, 27, refugee rights advocate and author
This Bill won’t deter people – it will put them in limbo. It will leave them distressed and unable to access education. It is cruel, inhuman, unlawful and unworkable.
I don’t understand how the government is comfortable with breaking international humanitarian laws and creating a dangerous precedent. The idea that people coming here irregularly will be criminalised and penalised for their manner of entry is beyond me. The government hasn’t provided any safe passage for people who have a genuine claim of protection in the UK.
Those concerned and in danger can’t wait around for the UK to get on with the resettlement so they are making dangerous and difficult journey to Europe and the UK irregularly and through unsafe routes with circumstances created by western governments.
Since coming to the UK, I have earned a degree, and a Masters, written a book, and carried the Olympic torch. None of this would have been possible with this Bill.
Gulwali fled Afghanistan aged 12 and later recounted his traumatic journey to safety in his memoir The Lightless Sky