Britain must commit to taking Afghan refugees

The unfolding military conflict in Afghanistan has long been leading to a humanitarian crisis. As British and American troops leave the country, the Taliban has continued its offensive march, taking towns and cities almost at will. At the time of writing they have entered the capital and look set to destroy Afghanistan’s fragile but growing democracy and replace it with a brutal regime.

British troops are currently evacuating UK nationals and are encouraging those who risked everything by working with Coalition forces against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban to go through the resettlement scheme. This bureaucratic nightmare however can take months and even years to navigate, with the United States’ equivalent being even more complex. Without immediate action now, we are condemning those heroes and their families who risked everything to help our troops to the mercy of the Taliban.

The UNHCR have highlighted the particular toll the conflict has placed on women and girls. Some 80 per cent of nearly a quarter of a million Afghans forced to flee since the end of May are women and children.

The overwhelming number of the millions of Afghans displaced by the conflict have so far remained in the country, many fleeing to Kabul – however with the Taliban’s arrival at the city, this may change quickly. Of those who have fled outside Afghanistan, the majority have sought sanctuary in neighbouring countries like Turkey and Iran. However, with a Taliban regime typified by violence and human rights abuses, we are likely to see a sharp rise in those in desperate need to flee the country.

Britain has a duty to step up to the plate and show international leadership. As a key actor in the conflict we must acknowledge our responsibility in this and that the mass displacement of people is a consequence for the political choices we have made.

The Liberal government in Canada has pledged to accept 20,000 Afghan refugees. We must lead by example and take more than double that, putting pressure on our international allies to do likewise. We must prioritise those who aided British troops; women and girls whose futures under Taliban rule is affront to our values of freedom, equality and human rights; LGBTQ+ people who fear the enforcement of Afghanistan’s death penalty; and those who have been brave enough to try and build a democracy in the country and spoken out against the Taliban insurgency.

With Parliament returning for an emergency session on Wednesday there is likely to be much hand-wringing over the level of our responsibility. That dereliction of duty can be left to the Conservatives – the Liberal Democrats have got to be bold and clear that our priority is to help Afghan refugees. Let us mend our once international reputation as an island of sanctuary and give a new home to those who have lost theirs in this conflict.

* James Cox is a teacher in Oxfordshire, an Executive member of Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary exec member and has a Master’s degree in Public Policy.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International.


  • Katharine Pindar 16th Aug '21 - 10:49am

    Well said, James. We should indeed accept as many of the endangered Afghans as can manage to escape. The worry is the difficulty for them now in getting out, on which our troops newly arrived in Kabul must surely be focused. It is a desperate situation at present.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Aug '21 - 1:02pm

    This is good, but James, numbers in advance don’t really mean a lot yet. We ought to negate the anti refugee lobby, as we justify this. Put a figure like that, you dent their bigotry not a bit!

    The West must do this. That is us, and America and others, in the EU et al.

    And the US in particular bare responsibility for the previous and current Presidential mistake of complete withdrawl.

  • In 2014 ISIS fighters were parading in Abu Ghraib, just two miles from Baghdad. ISIS were pushed back from the capital by government forces and Shia Militia, ultimately failing in the attempted conquest of Iraq by the terror group. Where ISIS failed the Taliban have simply walked-in to Kabul with little resistance and will bring with them the same level of violence and oppression that we saw with ISIS.
    The fall of Kabul has been compared with the fall of Saigon in 1975. There were thought to have been hundreds of thousand of political executions or disappearances in Vietnam. There were many more victims of starvation, disease, exhaustion, suicide or “accident” such injuries sustained in clearing minefields. A million + people who had “collaborated with the enemy” (about 7% of the South Vietnamese population) were confined in reeducation camps and jail.
    A massive exodus from Vietnam began with the change in government; eventually, 2 million people tried to escape. Many braved typhoon-lashed seas only to languish for years in detention camps throughout Southeast Asia. Hong Kong took in many Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s and 1980s. By the mid-1980s, Asia and the rest of the world was suffering from what was dubbed “compassion fatigue” and Hong Kong started trying to force Vietnamese to repatriate, efforts that produced regular riots in the camps.
    In 1976 the first Vietnamese “boat people” come ashore on the northern beaches of Australia after travelling 3,000 miles in leaky fishing boats. Over the next decade, tens of thousands of Vietnamese fled Vietnam as boat people.
    James Cox is right that the UK and our international allies will need to follow Canada’s example in accepting Afghan refugees. James is also right that we are likely to see a sharp rise in Afghans desperate to flee their landlocked country. An open land route to Iran or Pakistan is the only viable option once the immediate airlift of staff engaged with coalition forces is over.

  • Matt (Bristol) 16th Aug '21 - 2:22pm

    I don’t necessarily think we should put a number on this at this time but the commitment must be equal to – or higher than – the Canadian one.

    The experience of the Ugandan Asians after Amin and the post-handover Hong Kong immigrants must be put to usage.

    Is Kaweh Beheshtizadeh still a member of the party (the Lib Dem 2019 candidate in Bracknell after Phillip Lee resigned the Tory whip and moved to Wokingham)? People with strong, positive stories of UK as a home for those who love democracy need to lead this fight, also ex-service people who fought in Afghanistan and can make a case for immigration and asylum in the context of fighting terror, to prevent a false dichotomy being built by those who either demonise outsiders, or fear the power of those who do.

    I would also expect the various ex-Tory and dissident Tory constitutional and liberal independents (inside and outside the Lib Dems) to weigh in hard here. Dominic Grieve, Heidi Allen, Ken Clarke, Michael Heseltine, Chris Patten, John Major – I’m looking at you.

  • We are on a wave of high emotion at the moment.
    What we do not know is what is happening behind the scenes. If we believe the Taliban, which is difficult based on their past actions, they are happy for the US to have an embassy in “their” country.
    We have been accepting Afghanistan refugees for years, several are settled near where I live, children attend the local primary where my grand kids are.
    I think it will work out reasonably well, nothing like as bad as Vietnam.
    Pray I am right.

  • The Home Office has made it extremely difficult for Afghan refugees already in the country to remain here and has looked for every possible excuse to send people back. They should give an “amnesty” to everybody already in this country, as anybody sent back now will likely be viewed with suspicion by the Taliban and at risk of mistreatment.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 17th Aug '21 - 11:26am

    @John Kelly – i strongly agree. There is rightly a lot of talk about accepting new refugees from Afghanistan, but there are those already here, who are
    1. either waiting for a decision – and that needs to be speeded up to give them the security of knowing they are not going to be sent back to such danger
    2. have had a negative decision they are appealing against and about to be sent back. They need to be given refugee status too, so they are safe and secure.
    Note that leave to remain is for a maximum of 5 years, when the case is looked at again, so the Home Office is not taking risks of accepting just everyone for ever.
    I cannot see why our Party is not calling for refugee status for those not already here, and wish they would.

  • John Marriott 17th Aug '21 - 11:38am

    Yes, but how many?

  • James Cox is right to throw the emphasis very firmly on refugee issues. The interpretation of what western forces have done over the last twenty years can come later. This will probably involve going back to the curious notion of a “war against terror” and a sober recognition that Afghanistan in conventional terms has long been less of a nation state than most. Hopefully there will be some legacy following work done on the education front, even as many women and human rights activists go into hiding. Ultimately armies on the ground are no substitute for patient development work and diplomacy, for which the opportunities in Afghanistan look very bleak at the moment.

  • Ideally all those wanting to leave the country should be able to do so and we should play our fair share in accomodating them. Any Afghan nationals in this country should not be forced to return. The Taliban might have changed though it is too early to know.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 17th Aug '21 - 1:13pm

    For those wanting to do something, there is good info in here from Asylum Matters including a letter to send to MPs. It would be good if anyone has access to a Lib Dem MP if they could write to them too, please.
    Also a petition from JCWI to sign and other good info and sources of info.

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