In March this year, the Home Office won a legal battle to lift the ban on returning refugees to Afghanistan. Now, the case of one young man is going to determine the precedent for all cases relating to returns to Kabul. And he needs help.
“J” has been in the UK since he was 14. The invasion of Afghanistan led him to leave the country alone, and upon entering Britain he was recognised as needing protection. He has lived in Oxford for six years, and though he lost all contact with his family (some of whom, it is believed, were murdered), he has built a life that has him surrounded by an adopted family, friends, hobbies and full-time work.
If the Home Office gets its way, this is going to come to an abrupt end.
Coming of (deporting) age
Now that J is over the age of 18, government rules state that he should be returned to Kabul. Before March this year, that hadn’t been possible. The UK government had placed a blanket ban on deportations in August 2015 due to concerns that it was too dangerous.
The Taliban has grown its presence over the last year, and Daesh (Isis/Isil) has also strengthened its position. But it was asserted that, while provinces in Afghanistan were dangerous, it will be possible for asylum seekers to live safely in the capital.
In light of attacks in Kabul that have resulted in many deaths, it is hard to see what the basis for this statement was.
Kabul under attack
In 2016 alone, Kabul has played host to significant violence. As recently as 24 August, militants attacked the American University of Afghanistan in the city, killing at least 12 people and wounding 44. In July, at least 80 people were killed and more than 230 were injured after an apparent suicide attack on a demonstration by ethnic Hazaras. In April, at least 28 people were killed and 329 injured in an explosion during morning rush hour.
Regardless, then-Home Secretary and now-Prime Minister Theresa May fought a legal battle to get this ban overturned, and she won. At the time, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) revealed evidence that even the Afghani government was concerned by the policy.
Documents seen by TBIJ showed Afghanistan government officials requesting that British government officials “cease forced deportation of refugees” as early as the beginning of 2015. Then, in November 2015, the Afghan Minister for Refugees and Repatriation, Hussain Alemi Balkhi, was quoted as saying:
Keeping the current situation in Afghanistan in mind, the ministry of foreign affairs expects the authorities and the general public in our friends’ country the United Kingdom to show tolerance concerning the return of Afghan citizens from the UK, in particular in cases where returnees are vulnerable individuals.
As it transpires, statistics recorded by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan suggest that civilian casualties in the country during 2015 were the highest recorded. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to have been acknowledged in the decision-making processes of the Home Office. Or, worse, perhaps it was.
Taken from safety
It is not just the danger of returning to Afghanistan that makes J’s case, and all those like it, a problem. Having lived in the UK since the age of 14, he has spent some of his most formative teenage years here. He has made a family and friends here. He has a job here. Though he may be from Kabul, it is not the country he knew then and it not the home he knows now.
Speaking on the Home Office’s policy to deport asylum seekers when they turn 18, Hussain Alemi Balkhi told TBIJ earlier this year:
This decision adds to our concern. People who lived in the UK for so many years till they became 18 are completely unfamiliar with Afghanistan’s situation and challenges and this can cause problems. UK government should have granted them asylum.
The government is supposedly tasked with keeping these people safe. Taking them away from the safety and familiarity that they know and placing them somewhere strange as well as war-torn seems counterproductive at best. Jennifer Allsopp, who has created a fundraiser to help support J’s legal challenge, says of this situation:
J knows nothing of Kabul; he has no contacts there or anywhere else in Afghanistan. Everything he knows is here.
A case of “serious national importance”
What is going to happen with J’s case is important not just for his own safety and wellbeing, but for the prospects of the hundreds of other Afghan refugees in Britain who may be in similar positions. His case has been selected as country guidance, meaning that the ruling will set a precedent for others to be judged on.
If it is ruled that he is to be deported to Kabul, it is probable that others will be too.
Allsopp does not mince words when she describes this situation as “a question of life or death”. Given the instability and violence that continues to plague Afghanistan and Kabul in particular, and the specific vulnerability of asylum seekers who have grown up in the UK after fleeing as children, it is very likely that it is.
Because J’s case is to be used as country guidance, Allsopp stressed that “significantly more work” will be needed for the legal challenge. Because J is in full-time work, he is not eligible for assistance. But he doesn’t earn anywhere near enough to cover the costs himself.
For such a life-changing decision to hinge on the support of generous donators to a crowdfund seems wrong. But that, it seems, is just the reality for many of the vulnerable people awaiting a judgement on their fate.
– Donate to the fundraiser to help with J’s legal costs.
– Support groups like Help Refugees to assist those who need it most.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons.
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