The UK is abandoning victims of the Taliban who have been living in Afghanistan under the theocratic dictatorship for more than 15 months, MPs and activists have warned.
A cross-party group of politicians has written to the foreign minister urging him to refocus on helping Afghan women and girls in particular flee the increasingly repressive country. I can reveal.
Only 1,500 Afghans a year can seek asylum in Britain – a stark contrast to Britain’s treatment of Ukrainians, more than 200,000 of whom have been granted visas to settle here since the outbreak of war. Only people who already have a concrete connection to the country can apply.
Since the Taliban took power last August, the UK government has ramped up and targeted its development aid to Afghanistan, providing a total of £286 million last year and again this year.
That’s less than the annual British aid that went to the country before the pandemic, Foreign Office insiders have said I the number had been capped following a decision to cut overall development spending from 0.7 per cent of UK GDP to 0.5 per cent, a budget cut likely to be extended in next week’s autumn statement.
Bilateral aid to Afghanistan accounts for about 3 per cent of total UK aid spending.
Wendy Chamberlain, the Liberal Democrat MP who coordinated the appeal to James Cleverly, warned that following the West’s withdrawal from the country after two decades of military intervention, Britain has a moral obligation to the Afghan people.
“We have made commitments to the people of Afghanistan whom we have failed,” she said. “The lack of safe and legal pathways for women and girls left behind under Taliban rule is an abomination.
“I have had the privilege of meeting Afghan women who have settled here. They clearly have an immense amount to contribute to our public life. They may be silenced at home, but here we can and must hear their voices.”
The bipartisan parliamentary group on Afghan women and girls, which includes Conservative, Labor, Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green Party MPs, said in its letter to the Foreign Secretary that women and girls in Afghanistan face “gender apartheid”. are” with girls who have been denied schooling, and high-profile women or those who have held jobs that the Taliban disapprove of have been subjected to death threats.
MEPs called for a new asylum route specifically for “vulnerable Afghan women”, with those who have served in key positions such as judges, journalists, police officers, teachers and health workers being prioritized for refugee status in the UK – with a view to their future home country return when safe to do so, help rebuild civil society when the Taliban are no longer in power.
The total number of Afghan refugees the government has pledged to take in this year is just 3,500, of which 2,000 are being referred by the UN.
The remaining 1,500 places are only available to people who have worked for the British Council or as security officers for the UK’s Afghan operations, and to alumni of the Chevening Scholarship Scheme for International Doctoral Students.
In their letter, MEPs also called for delimitation of aid to Afghanistan amid fears a growing share of development spending will go towards keeping refugees already in the UK rather than being sent directly abroad. Her other demands include the appointment of a special envoy so that Britain can take a leading role in coordinating global aid to Afghan women.
Activists plan to hold a march for Afghan women and girls in London on November 27 and are aiming to meet Rishi Sunak before it takes place.
The prime minister is also likely to face questions about Britain’s support for the country at next year’s G20 summit in Indonesia.
A government spokesman said: “To date, over 21,000 people have been evacuated, including women and women’s rights activists who were at risk. We’re still working hard and have assisted over 5,000 eligible individuals to leave Afghanistan since the end of Op Pitting.
“We remain committed to using all our diplomatic and developmental levers to support the Afghan people and protect the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. This includes doubling our assistance to Afghanistan, making it one of our largest bilateral programs this fiscal year.”
The full letter from MEPs
We urge the HMG to consider the following measures:
- Appoint a Special Envoy on Afghan Women, Girls and Human Rights similar to US Special Envoy Rina Amiri, an Afghan-born American diplomat and activist. While not necessarily of Afghan origin, the individual should be a diplomat with a proven track record of working on Afghanistan and regional issues, dealing with gender issues and human rights;
- Adopted a consultation mechanism for more effective engagement between Afghan advocacy forums and Whitehall, and in particular to appoint an Afghan Women’s Advisory Group. The FCDO should support Afghan women to play a role in international policy-making and participation. It should also appoint Afghan experts as advisors to Whitehall task forces and working groups related to Afghanistan and ensure that its pool of advisors is diverse with regard to Afghan backgrounds;
- Create an ACRS asylum pathway for vulnerable Afghan women and set a timeline for 2024 and beyond. We recommend that the government establish a Coordinating Committee of regional and thematic experts to work with HMG to clearly define “Afghan women at risk”, determine the process for referrals and assess the need for specialist resettlement services. We also recommend the HMG to establish sectoral lists of Afghan women at risk, e.g. B. Judges, prosecutors and human rights defenders, politicians, journalists, policewomen, domestic intelligence and security officials, teachers, health workers, activists, artists and musicians. These are people who hopefully one day can help rebuild their country;
- maintaining the level of aid to Afghanistan. In August 2021 it was announced that the UK would double its aid to Afghanistan to £286 million for the fiscal year, following earlier cuts. It has been reported that part of the aid budget may also be used for asylum and refugee costs and spending programs for Ukraine within the UK. We call for the current engagement with Afghanistan to be delineated and resources allocated to local organizations that support women and girls – both in Afghanistan and in neighboring countries. We also call for the FCDO to convene stakeholders looking for innovative solutions “beyond aid” to address the long-term development needs of the country and Afghans in exile/diaspora;
- To convene a global summit or conference on Afghan women and girls in the same way, for example as the International Conference on Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict (PSVI) in central London on 28-29 November 2022. The APPG and its secretariat would welcome any participation Session on Afghanistan during the PSVI conference;
- Work with international partners to create a formal leadership group of women from regional and Muslim-majority countries working together and with a leadership group of Afghan women-in-exile. The aim would be to play a role in international policy-making towards Afghanistan and to lobby their governments for the human rights of Afghan women and girls and urge them to put pressure on the Taliban to respect the human rights of Afghan women and girls;
- Any UK negotiations with the Taliban must focus on the fundamental rights of Afghan women and girls and the negotiating teams should be balanced.
- Supporting and leading the push to create a new United Nations-mandated accountability mechanism to document violations of international humanitarian law and human rights perpetrated in Afghanistan, including against women and girls. In light of the arrest of Zarifa Yaqoubi and other human rights defenders and civil society activists in Kabul on November 3, we ask HMG to lead international efforts to secure their release and work to better protect human rights defenders in the country. Women in Afghanistan deserve to be safe and extrajudicial arrests and punishments must stop.
Signed by MEPs of the new APPG for Afghan Women and Girls
Caroline Nokes MP (Conservatives)
Wendy Chamberlain MP (Liberal Democrats)
Liz Saville Roberts MP (Plaid Cymru)
Joanna Cherry KC MP (SNP), Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights
Baroness Sugg (Conservative)
Caroline Lucas MdB (Greens)
Baroness Gohir (cross banker)
APPG for Women, Peace and Security
Chairman, Flick Drummond MP (Conservative)