Divisive rhetoric about which refugees and asylum seekers deserve safety must stop

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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:


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Looking at the current distribution of Afghan refugees, Kevin Watkins shared:


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:

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:


Setting out the devastating impact of this, Taj Ali said:

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:


Lola Olufemi added:

Philip Lee said:

Underlining just how preposterous ideas about ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ refugees and asylum seekers are, Jason Okundaye shared:

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:

Another Twitter user shared:

They concluded:

Someone else added:

Another said:

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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