Yesterday, MPs returned from their recess to the UK parliament to debate the UK’s action in Afghanistan. There was widespread criticism from both sides of the house, and questions were raised about the UK’s course of action over the last week.
The government have also confirmed that a scheme to receive 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan to the UK will take place over a four year period. In the immediate aftermath of this moment, action must be taken quickly to ensure that communities in Afghanistan are provided with emergency resources and relief.
However, policies implemented by the UK Government over the last year leave the UK in a very limited position to offer the help required.
The confirmed cut to the international aid and development budget to 0.5% GDP already leaves the UK severely constrained. Although recognition that education for women and girls is crucial in dialogue around the conflict in Afghanistan, the government have stripped the budget of the resources. Now, we risk finding ourselves unable to deliver the support many would suggest we are obliged to offer to Afghan communities. Without flexibility in the budget, we could be forced to make decisions between offering aid here or elsewhere. If the situation in Afghanistan transforms into one where long term development investment is needed for vulnerable people, the UK may not be in a position to play it’s part.
The UK is also limited in the support it can offer at home. The government is offering 20,000 spaces to refugees from Afghanistan over five years. A targeted numerical commitment is welcome, and goes further than the government has done in the past by setting a measurable goal for our response. However, it is still limited. 5,000 spaces offered in the next year will likely barely skim the surface of the need for sanctuary of so many caught up in the conflict. These targets will limit the number of people able to come through established and safe routes to seek asylum in the UK. Instead, those remaining will be pushed to flee conflict and persecution via irregular and dangerous routes. This could well be the fate of thousands of Afghan people seeking asylum in the UK who do not get access to the limited schemes on offer by the government.
This comes at the same time as the introduction of the Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill, currently making its way through parliament. These policies implement a ‘two-tier’ system for people seeking asylum in the UK. Those who travel to the UK via irregular routes will be subject to limited access to resources, family reunion and rights once they reach the UK, and will only be offered a temporary protection status. They will be at more risk of being treated with criminal status, and the UK government will seek to return many to a third safe country they may have travelled through to reach the UK.
Instead of taking the chance to bring people to the UK safely and through managed routes, the UK government are opting to limit opportunities for safe arrival and greeting them in the UK not with welcome, but hostility.
Policies adopted by the UK government over the past year, altering the way the UK treats people seeking asylum and slashing international aid, are setting us up to fail in this crucial moment. Without the financial resource and without an infrastructure to welcome asylum seekers safely and with compassion, we will fail to provide the response that is warranted.
As these policies are being put to the test in the face of an international crisis, it is crucial that the government now reassesses these policies in the wake of the crisis in Afghanistan. Reassurance must be offered that the UK’s international development budget will return to 0.7% at the next spending review. As the Nationality and Borders Bill makes its way through parliament, MPs and Peers must take the opportunity to challenge and amend the damaging policies it contains.
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