Overview of the situation
With real concern we have watched the situation in Afghanistan unfold. Large numbers of people fear oppression and violence, lives of millions of people are placed at risk and thousands are displaced.
The situation in Afghanistan is complex and changing rapidly. The UN Refugee agency describes the situation as follows:
‘The people of Afghanistan have lived with conflict for more than four decades. Entire generations have never known peace and millions remain displaced. Renewed violence and instability have created an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Hundreds of thousands of people have been newly displaced across the country since the start of this year alone. Many had to flee with only the clothes on their back and are struggling to survive in appalling conditions, sheltering in tents made only of cloth.’
For a detailed and current summary of events that are unfolding week by week and the humanitarian situation please follow The New Humanitarian, Al Jazeera or other news agencies.
Are Afghans arriving in the UK?
Although the UK Government has made a commitment to start an Afghanistan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme which aims to welcome 5,000 Afghans in year one, with up to a total of 20,000 in the long-term, no announcement has been made as to when and how this will commence.
The Afghanistan Citizen’s Resettlement Scheme will ‘aim to resettle Afghan nationals who have been displaced from their homes due to the current crisis and will prioritise women, girls, children and those most in need, who are likely to face human rights abuses and dehumanising treatment by the Taliban’.
Most recently efforts of The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), launched on 1 April 2021 have been accelerated. The Home Office states that ‘under the policy, any current or former locally employed staff who are assessed to be under serious threat to life are offered priority relocation to the UK regardless of their employment status, rank or role, or length of time served.’
The Home Office is working with local government across the UK to relocate these families many of whom are temporarily being housed in hotels before permanent resettlement places can be found. One third of local authorities have already committed to supporting this scheme in the UK. Others have committed to permanently resettling Afghans arriving under this scheme. In Edinburgh for instance 50 people will be permanently resettled (information last updated 31/08/2021).
1. Contact your MP
Only a very limited number of Afghan nationals who need support will receive it through the UK’s resettlement scheme. You can contact your local MP to urge the UK Government to offer comprehensive safety to Afghan refugees.
Our experience is that it makes more impact on an MP to write a personal letter, or have a meeting with them, than to simply sign petitions or send standard email messages; the 10 minutes it takes to write and send your own message, or have a brief conversation, can be a better use of time.
Some of the key points you might wish to ask for or raise:
- Grant immediate asylum to Afghans already waiting for status in the UK
- Release all Afghan nationals from detention, and suspend the removal of Afghans from the UK.
- Expand the family reunion route so that Afghans can be joined by other members of their family, such as parents and siblings
- Abandon the ‘resettlement-only’ plans set out in the Nationality and Borders Bill, that would criminalise or deny full refugee status to those who make their own journeys to seek asylum in the UK
- Note that we welcome the fact the government is thinking about resettlement, but their commitment is over five years and doesn’t go far enough. The events of the last few days show we need to move fast to be effective. That means helping more than 5,000 refugees this year if that’s what it takes to keep vulnerable Afghans safe.
- Highlight the positive contributions that asylum seekers and refugees make to our communities and faith groups.
The SRC communications team has also drafted an email which you can use as a template and edit to send to your MP. Please find the link here.
In addition to emailing your MP you can support two petitions:
- an online petition calling on the resettlement of 20,000 Afghan refugees
- join the call for an asylum system that is kind, fair and effective.
2. Advocate for a more humane approach to asylum seekers and refugees
One of the broader issues, underlying part of the crisis, is the Nationality and Borders Bill which is currently making its way through parliament. The Nationality and Borders Bill will make it even harder for people to seek sanctuary in the UK. One key point proposed in the new bill is that an asylum seeker’s claim will be determined by their means of arrival rather than the merit of their application. The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates exactly why this is fundamentally flawed. If the bill becomes law, any Afghans who flee and make their own way to the UK will be criminalised. Their asylum claim will be deemed ‘inadmissible’ under the new bill. Those who cannot get on a rescue flight are expected to stay and wait until the UK has a resettlement scheme in place. Past schemes have only resettled around 5,000 a year which is far below what is needed.
We are therefore working hard with partners to campaign against the realisation of this bill. Many faith groups joined the Together with Refugees Coalition which is working towards a more humane approach towards asylum seekers and refugees, ensuring that they can still make use of their right to claim asylum. You are encouraged to join this coalition and the efforts to prevent this bill from becoming a reality.
Find a detailed briefing, including actions you can take on the Joint Public Issues Team website.
3. Offer practical help
Many of you will be keen to offer practical help and support to Afghans arriving in Scotland. As of yet (31/08/2021) numbers arriving in Scotland have been relatively small (and not publicised, but this might change). Our suggestion is that you get in touch with your local authority refugee resettlement teams or local refugee agencies and ask whether Afghans have arrived in your local area and what might be the best support you can offer. To connect with your local resettlement team or find our more what is happening in your local area please contact one of the Refugee Integration Co-ordinators:
North East Region: Marwa.Bushnaq@scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk
The Community Development Team at the Scottish Refugee Council is also currently investigating the setup of a Support Network for Afghans arriving in Scotland. They have designed a Google Form in which individuals and organisations can register an offer of support. They will use the collated information to create a database of coordinated support network for new arrivals. Anyone interested in participating in such a support network can register their interest in this form.
Hosting destitute asylum seekers is also a very practical way you can offer your support. Two great organisations, Refugees at Home and Positive Action in Housing link people who have a spare room or an empty couch with refugees and asylum seekers who need a place to stay. As the vast majority of asylum seekers live in Glasgow, requests for hosts will be greatest there.
Finally, you can use the New Scots Connect Map to find community groups and grassroots organisations near you that are run by, and for, refugees and people seeking asylum.
We would suggest you make donations to local or national charities who are already well set up to support refugees and asylum seekers arriving in Scotland. They are best placed to respond quickly and effectively to support newly arrived Afghans as well.
A few suggestions are below, but please also search for an organisation that aligns with your values and commitments (e.g. on the New Scots Connect Map). For detailed advice about giving money or items please take a look at our website.
- St Rollox Community Outreach offers advice and practical support to refugees and asylum seekers in Glasgow. To donate please email email@example.com
- Refuweegee provides a warm welcome to forcibly displaced people arriving in Glasgow. They have provided over 10,000 community-built, personal welcome packs and emergency support packs to people all over Glasgow and across Scotland. They are preparing to be ready to welcome Afghans arriving too.
- The Scottish Refugee Council is a national charity offering advice and support to refugees and asylum seekers across Scotland.
- The Refugee Survival Trust support refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland to find a route out of poverty and connect with people in their local communities. Safe in Scotland provides accommodation and trauma-informed support for people experiencing asylum-related destitution.
- Welcome Churches are working with local churches across the UK to provide support to refugees in asylum seekers.
Prayer is an important part of many faith traditions. Below are some specific prayer points:
- Pray for the people of Afghanistan. Pray for those who are fearful of their lives and livelihoods, who have lost loved ones, or through chaos have lost touch of their families. Pray for those who are making treacherous journeys because they have no choice, for those who are seeking change in the country, and for those who are left behind. Pray for the safety of religious minorities, and for over one third of the population which is facing food insecurity due to severe drought. Pray for safety, comfort, provision, endurance and peace.
- Pray for wisdom and generosity of the global community, governments and for national and international leaders who have power, influence and authority. Would their responses and commitments to supporting those most in need be generous, kind and compassionate.
- Pray for the mental health of those fleeing Afghanistan and that they be provided with the correct support and care as they arrive in the UK. Pray that people quickly feel settled in their new environments and that not only are their practical needs are met but also their emotional and spiritual needs.
- Pray for Afghans and others who are seeking safety in the UK; who are waiting for their asylum decision, who are detained or destitute.
- Pray for receiving communities to be welcoming and sensitive to the needs of those they are caring for. Pray that all will be welcomed regardless of who they are and where they are from.
A prayer (written by Carol Finlay):
For more prayer and worship resources on the topic, check out our God With Us resource. It includes bible studies, prayers, liturgies, stories, poems and discussion ideas.
6. Listen to and share stories
Hearing first hand from people with lived experience is essential as we think about understanding needs, offering appropriate support and being led in prayer. The Boaz Trust recommends listening to people like Gulwali Passarlay who wrote the brilliant book The Lightless Sky about his own journey from Afghanistan to safety as a teenager, documenting how he navigated the UK asylum system. The Guardian recently featured a powerful long read from Zarlasht Halaimzai who fled Afghanistan as a child along with her family and sought refuge in the UK.
Also the Scottish Refugee Council invites you to follow prominent Afghan voices, like their own CEO, Sabir Zazai, Mohammd Asif, Glasgow Afghan United founder, Abdul Bastani, Director of Afhan Human Rights Foundation, as well as advocates for the rights of women and girls like Malala Yousafzai.
7. Longer term support
Please check out our Sanctuary in Scotland resource for ideas on other ways you can get involved in walking alongside people seeking sanctuary in Scotland.
One specific scheme we’d like to highlight is Community Sponsorship. Since 2016 it has been possible for faith and community groups in the UK to take part in a Community Sponsorship programme. This allows local groups to be directly involved supporting the resettlement of a refugee family in their neighbourhood and support them as they restart their lives, here in Scotland. From 2020, refugees who come through Community Sponsorship are counted in addition to the resettlement targets set by the UK Government, so it will make a real difference to the number of people who can be offered a place of safety. To find out more visit Sponsor Refugees or Reset, and it’s well worth watching this video.
8. International support for people in Afghanistan
- Christian Aid have been working with partners to distribute food and hygiene kits to people who have been internally displaced due to the conflict. They are using funds from their Global Hunger Emergency appeal, which you can donate to here. Currently all funds of this appeal are being directed to Afghanistan.
- UNHCR remains on the ground in Afghanistan wherever it is safe to do so, distributing tents, hygiene kits and core relief items. You can donate to their work here.
- The British Red Cross are also fundraising for their work across Afghanistan. You can donate online, by phone or by post.