The UK government has announced its resettlement scheme for 20,000 Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban’s sudden takeover of the country. The government will only allow 5,000 Afghan refugees to enter the country in the first year, with more to follow over the coming years. Many have raised concerns that this proposal is insufficient, particularly given the UK government’s significant contributions to the crisis in Afghanistan. Others have highlighted the resurgence of dehumanising rhetoric about ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ refugees and asylum seekers.
A far from generous proposal
The government has heralded its plans to welcome up to 20,000 Afghan refugees over a number of years as “one of the most generous resettlement schemes in our country’s history”. Putting the scheme into perspective, Khaled Beydoun shared:
Tajikistan 🇹🇯 — a small nation of roughly 9 million people — is taking in more Afghan refugees than the US, Canada, the UK, France and Australia combined.
— Khaled Beydoun (@KhaledBeydoun) August 19, 2021
Looking at the current distribution of Afghan refugees, Kevin Watkins shared:
Just to put the UK Afghan resettlement debate in context. The current distribution of Afghan refugees 👇👇 pic.twitter.com/TTranKTTn4
— Kevin Watkins (@Kevin_Watkins_) August 19, 2021
The crisis in Afghanistan – which the UK government helped create – comes in the midst of the home secretary’s harsh crack down on immigration. Indeed, under her proposed draconian immigration bill, Afghans desperately seeking safety could be criminalised. But the home secretary isn’t opposed to all immigration.
In January, the home secretary announced a new visa for Hong Kongers fleeing persecution under the Beijing regime. As Byline Times‘ Hardeep Matharu highlighted, “people from this heritage have traditionally been categorised as a ‘model minority’”. This disparity in immigration policies begs questions about who our government – and society – deem worthy of safety and protection. This divisive qualification of ‘desirable’ asylum seekers and refugees versus ‘undesirable’ ones is deeply inhumane.
Many are urging the government to do more to support Afghans fleeing violence and turmoil in the region. Responding to the proposed resettlement scheme, Detention Action director Bella Sankey shared:
This is pathetic. 5000 this year doesn’t even equal the number of Afghan people we’ve forcibly removed in the past decade. https://t.co/F6PMwcXffZ
— Bella Sankey (@BellaSankey) August 17, 2021
Indeed, according to Streatham MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy, the government has forcibly removed and denied asylum to tens of thousands of Afghans seeking safety in the UK:
The UK government has rejected 32,000+ Afghan asylum claims since 2001.
More Afghans have been denied asylum or deported than will be offered safety under the Government's resettlement scheme.
They must urgently revise it to reflect the scale of the turmoil the UK has created. https://t.co/VDa3zvOYCB
— Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP (@BellRibeiroAddy) August 18, 2021
Setting out the devastating impact of this, Taj Ali said:
Over the past decade, the UK has forcibly removed tens of thousands of Afghans back to Afghanistan, including young adults and children. Many of those deported have faced attacks by armed groups and fled life-threatening situations.
— Taj Ali (@Taj_Ali1) August 17, 2021
The UK’s moral obligation
Responding to the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan following the western coalition’s swift departure from the region, prime minister Boris Johnson said that Britain’s “priority is to make sure we deliver on our obligations to UK nationals, to all those who have helped the British effort in Afghanistan over 20 years, and to get them out as fast as we can”.
He made no mention of the people of Afghanistan. Rhetoric such as this creates a hierarchy of human lives, as it suggests that those who supported the West in the region are more deserving of safety than those who didn’t. At times like this, we must clearly and loudly state that no human life is worth more than another. Reflecting on rhetoric about ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ refugees, one Twitter user shared:
also think the they didn't stay and fight line, including from biden, is not just excuse but also to reinforce the idea that there is no moral obligation to accept refugees beyond a small number that actively cooperated with military
— Frank Sobotka (@cymrurouge) August 17, 2021
Lola Olufemi added:
something deeply unsettling about the response to people *clinging to moving aircrafts* in order to escape stopping at “asylum for those who need it most!” & other hierarchies based on deservingness. The border should not exist. That’s not a pipe dream.
— lola olufemi (@lolaolufemi_) August 17, 2021
Philip Lee said:
This attitude of Britain, that we can't help thousands of people in dire need, because someone whom we deem does not deserve that help might "slip through the net", is a sickness.
— Dr Philip Lee (@drphiliplee1) August 15, 2021
Underlining just how preposterous ideas about ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ refugees and asylum seekers are, Jason Okundaye shared:
I do think it’s important for those of us who belong to these marginal groups whose “vulnerability” is equipped through projects of homonationalism and femonationalism to loudly say “not in my name”. That’s why it’s called “Lesbians & Gays Support the Migrants”
— Jason Okundaye (@jasebyjason) August 17, 2021
What about Afghan men seeking safety?
Others have highlighted the problematic mainstream focus on providing safety for Afghan women and girls but not Afghan men. This patronising rhetoric is racism and Islamophobia wrapped in false humanitarianism. Explaining this, Shahed Ezaydi said:
so this has angered a lot of people it would seem.. why aren't Muslim men worth saving then? why is the misogyny in our community seen as ~so much~ worse than any other group of men? https://t.co/edWOKKSKRj
— Shahed Ezaydi (@shahedezaydi) August 18, 2021
Another Twitter user shared:
Moments like this always reveal how “some people’s” claim to feminist politics depends on a myopic understanding of gendered vulnerability that absents how gendering itself is made possible through the workings of capital, race and empire.
— Abeera (@discoursekhala) August 17, 2021
which inevitably has gendered effects. also a tired and obvious tactic to remove themselves as beneficiaries of this violent apparatus and make (Afghan) men the looming spectre threatening the fictive woman “us”.
— Abeera (@discoursekhala) August 17, 2021
Someone else added:
We just need to be honest how about how problematic western gender politics is and how it has created myopic and essentialist (highly racialised) forms of “manhood” that are deemed irreparably undeserving of saving. https://t.co/Fm19zVoYFv
— Tangled Fog of Pulsating Yearning (@fanoniscanon) August 16, 2021
Any gender based analysis that ignores colonialism and imperialism will inevitably result in (often Western) feminists weaponizing a flat understanding of patriarchy to deny the humanity of colonized and racialized men.
— yara (@yaraxsh) August 17, 2021
The UK has a moral obligation to provide safety for any Afghans fleeing the crisis which our government helped to create. We must urgently call on the government to meet its obligation by committing to resettling more refugees and ensuring amnesty for any Afghans already living in the UK. We must also reject divisive rhetoric peddled by politicians and the mainstream media about who is or isn’t deserving of safety. An understanding that human rights are universal and not subject to conditions must sit at the heart of efforts to support Afghans during this crisis.
Featured image via Katie Moum/Unsplash
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