International News

Catholic Refugee Agency Urges ‘Safe Routes’ to UK for Afghan Refugees

By Charles Collins

LEICESTER, United Kingdom (Crux) — As thousands of Afghans who cooperated with NATO forces seek to flee the country in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Kabul, the Jesuit Refugee Service UK is calling on the British government to provide safe routes to the country for asylum seekers.

Members of Taliban forces gesture as they check a vehicle on a street in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 16, 2021. During his Angelus address Aug. 15, Pope Francis expressed his concern for Afghanistan amid the Taliban’s control of the country. (Photo: CNS/Reuters)

“As we grieve with the people of Afghanistan and watch with horror, there are practical things the British Government must do to protect Afghans forced to flee their home now,” said Sarah Teather, the director of JRS UK.

Reports from Afghanistan describe Taliban fighters summarily executing people suspected of collaborating with NATO and other international forces in the country. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, when they were ousted by the U.S. military in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

The Taliban quickly retook the country after Allied military forces abandoned Afghanistan and the 300,000-strong national army evaporated without logistics support.

JRS UK is calling on the British government to commit to the resettlement of Afghan refugees and to provide immediate humanitarian protection to Afghan people seeking asylum already in the UK.

“The chaotic scenes [in Kabul] remind us that in an emergency, refugees have little freedom on how they travel to safety or where they go and that the journey to flee is fraught with danger. We have, as yet, made no commitments on resettlement. We must do so, and look to provide other ways for people to enter the UK safely to claim asylum and reunite with family members,” Teather said.

“We must also act now to provide safety to asylum seekers already in the UK and to guarantee safety for those who will arrive in coming weeks and months. The government must urgently abandon attempts to penalize refugees for how they are able to travel to seek safety, and for asylum seekers who are already here, it must recognize the terrible change in circumstances in Afghanistan and grant them immediate Humanitarian Protection, at the very least,” she continued.

Schoolchildren walk past an Afghan National Army soldier keeping watch at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, April 21, 2021. (Photo: CNS/Mohammad Ismail, Reuters)

On Monday, Aug. 16, the government said it had already let in 3,300 Afghan interpreters, staff, and their families into the country for resettlement.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told BBC Breakfast the UK had “always been a country that has provided safe haven for those fleeing persecution.”

“The most important thing we can do at source … is try and provide the stability so we don’t see these large numbers of migrant flows. So, I think that ought to be the number one priority but nonetheless, asylum is really important,” Raab added.

JRS’s call for safe passages for Afghan refugees is made in the context of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which would make asylum seekers arriving in the UK through “unauthorized” means — such as by boat across the English Channel — ineligible for resettlement in the country.