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Last month it was announced that the UK government intends to accommodate 20,000 Afghan refugees in a resettlement scheme inspired by the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme of 2014. This year alone, the scheme will take on and allow 5,000 refugees to reside within the UK. The scheme is to prioritise those most vulnerable within Afghanistan, with displaced women, children and religious minorities at the forefront of the government’s humanitarian response and will run independently from the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) that aims to offer safety and relocation to those who have aided British operations in Afghanistan over the years.
This move in policy accompanies the concerns outlined by one recent UNHCR news report that an overwhelming eighty percent of an estimated 250,000 Afghans that have fled the state since May have been women and children. The importance of the UK’s resettlement strategy as it stands is further illuminated by the wealth of reports seen last month of Taliban fighters targeting the citizens attempting to reach Kabul’s airport, and of course the history of grave oppression against women under Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001. An array of international non-government and women-led organisations have in the last month come out to express not only their solidarity with Afghan women and children, but their solemn concerns as to what the Taliban takeover today will mean for the years of small victories made for gender equality, as seen under laws such as the 2009 Elimination of Violence Against Women (which criminalised both violent and non-violent forms of oppression against girls and women in the state).
However, critics from across parties and national organisations have raised grievances against the government’s decision to take in only 5,000 refugees per annum - this comes after Alexander Betts, a political scientist and Professor of Forced Migration and International Affairs at the University of Oxford, last month told the Independent that there could be “significantly more than one million people displaced” as the Taliban regime advances. In addition to academic critique, the government has faced backlash from its very own - Tobias Ellwood, MP for Bournemouth East and Damian Green, former cabinet ministers, have respectively called for greater accommodation efforts, with Ellwood characterising the plan of action as “woefully inadequate” and Green leading calls to ease the historically strict nature of asylum applications in order to “take anyone who can make a case”.
Whilst it is undoubted that women and children, alongside secular minorities, remain at critical threat in the face of the Afghan conflict, conceptualisations of citizen vulnerability within both media outlets and political discourse within the UK continue to eliminate - or in some cases, go as far as to mock - the idea that male survivors of state led violence are, too, vulnerable. In one Guardian report, Lord Dubs - former child refugee following the Nazi occupation of Prague in 1939 - recalls instances of government ministers in years before “sneering” in regard to Afghan men occupying European refugee camps.
With said calls to increase the number of refugees allowed to resettle within the UK, Dubs’ comments become increasingly relevant, and perhaps shine a light on the idea of moving away from such strict gendered conceptualisations of vulnerability when in the face of international crises. Stories of the inherent powerlessness of civilians from both ethnic minority and LGBTQ+ backgrounds have recently been drawn attention to by reports via both the BBC and Amnesty International this week. With nine men from the Hazara minority within Afghanistan killed, three tortured and six reportedly shot to death - alongside one LGBTQ+ man reporting that those from the community would be subject to death “on the spot” under Taliban rule - there have been further calls to the government to widen their so-called priority list, in the aim of promoting how severe the situation is within Afghanistan and how it is impacting people of all backgrounds and identities.
Although staunch advocates of the scheme, such as Home Secretary Priti Patel, seem keen to remind critics that the UK cannot bear the responsibility of the global refugee resettlement effort alone, unable to “accommodate 20,000 people all in one go”, it is has been argued that the government must respond to the growing appeals made by the domestic community, and reconsider their options going forward in their plight to saving innocent Afghan lives. Calls to stop deportations to Afghanistan, to ease the nature of existing asylum applications, and to ultimately protect each and every kind of civilian - regardless of gender, religion, or sexuality - engulfed in the unfolding terrors, are only going to become amplified as the weeks transpire, though the question of whether or not No 10 will give in to such pleas remains in the air.