Refugees Welcome: One of the handful of leaders who saw the importance of offering support in Afghanistan was Volodymyr Zelensky, long before he was a household name
“If we stay, they will kill all of us,” read the WhatsApp message. It was from a young woman desperately asking for help to get her family out of Afghanistan.
It was the summer of 2021 and my phone had been buzzing non-stop with similar pleas from hundreds of people who had heard we might be able to help.
A number of us who previously worked in government and NGOs had clubbed together to see if we could rescue people at risk of being hunted down by the Taliban, following the collapse of the Afghan government.
We knew who to help and how to fly them out. But in a world where all the decisions are taken by governments, finding someone willing to take people seemed an impossible challenge. After working the phones for weeks, one of the handful of leaders who saw the importance of offering support was the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, long before he was a household name.
The invasion of Ukraine follows wars in Syria, and Afghanistan. Too often, the dark pattern inside the country is followed by the same intransigence beyond its borders.
Primeiro, war breaks out. The aggressors meet stiff resistance. They then respond, unleashing the full force of their military. Bombing and shelling devastate built-up areas. A population is not only torn apart, but even weaponised by some countries; as they flow into others. A humanitarian crisis emerges. Good noises are heard from the international community. Promises are made to do what is right. But then the doors are closed – and countries on the front line are left to deal with the fallout alone, exacerbating an already desperate situation.
Dentro 2021, another nation that stepped up to the plate was Greece. Despite over a million people having come through Greece, equal to a tenth of its population, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis provided safe haven for hundreds of children, women and men fleeing the Taliban, when other western governments turned their backs.
When war broke out in Ukraine 10 days ago, Athens was still waiting for the European Union to get its act together and create a viable working mechanism to deal with the ever-increasing challenge posed by migration.
We can’t keep making the same mistakes. It is vital that the stresses placed on communities hosting refugees – and in this crisis that means Poland, Eslováquia, Hungary and Romania – are recognised and met as part of our overall humanitarian response.
These communities have already been hit hard by the health and economic impacts of the Covid pandemic, and by the knock-on economic impact of Brexit. Failing to support frontline countries could well result in a furthering fraying of the European Union – a consequence likely intended – if not at least welcomed – by Putin.
To help pay for the costs associated with meeting the needs of Ukrainian refugees and the demands placed on host communities, a relief and reconstruction fund should be created – using the recently-frozen funds and seized assets of Putin and his oligarchs. The importance of the Robin Hood-esque semblance of repurposing ill-gotten gains to save lives cannot be underestimated.
It is also essential that western governments ensure that the funding of the United Nations refugee agency and humanitarian organisations is commensurate to the rapidly growing crisis. More broadly, visa processes need to be streamlined and urgently speeded up for those applying for entry into countries away from the frontline. It’s because of this that I support O Independente’s Refugees Welcome campaign. Ukrainians do need open, unconditional and generous help right now.
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At a time when facism and misinformation threaten to undo our hard-fought democracies, Ukraine has reminded us what it means to stand up against terrible odds and fight for our values and our freedom.
Our answer to this can’t be silence. We must match Ukraine’s strength. As the international community now considers how it will show up for the people of Ukraine, we must urge world leaders to remember that success or failure here has far-reaching consequences for us all.
I would also say, ” Перемога для всiх нас,” or “Victory for all of us,” which has become the defacto greeting at Ukranian checkpoints. I’ve now heard it dozens of times, and each time there is an unspoken understanding – we know we are outnumbered and outgunned, but we’re in this together, to the very end.
Amed Khan is a direct action philanthropist, most recently saving and relocating thousands of at-risk Afghan allies and partners, founder of the Elpida Home Project to shelter refugees in Greece during the European refugee crisis, and a former US government official
The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Agora, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, Clique aqui. To sign the petition Clique aqui. If you would like to donate then please Clique aqui for our GoFundMe page.