The UK’s Responsibility to Refugees – a letter from our CEO

The situation in Afghanistan is heart breaking to witness. We also know that many people here in Scotland are living with fear and uncertainty for their loved ones who are still in Afghanistan.  Scotland is a generous and welcoming place, and we have been heartened to see and receive many generous offers of help from Scottish people.  

Whilst we welcome the UK Government’s announcement to re-settle 5,000 Afghans in the first year, as part of 20,000 over five years, within the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), this commitment is not close to being enough to help Afghans nor fulfil the moral responsibility the whole of the UK bears. 

We also welcome the Scottish Government’s call to the UK Government to ‘lead by example’ and ‘take a humane and welcoming approach’ to accepting more refugees. We urge the Scottish Government to offer to re-settle higher numbers of refugees. 

We are also concerned about Afghans already in Scotland, either awaiting asylum decisions or those who have been refused asylum. What will be the Government’s response? We urge the Government to make a clear commitment that no Afghans currently in the UK will be returned to Afghanistan and that Afghans in the asylum system have their claims processed ‘quickly and compassionately’ by the Home Office. 

At Refugee Survival Trust we know and support many people experiencing destitution when seeking asylum in Scotland. Our services provide practical support to people at a very difficult time in their lives, including crucial safe community-based accommodation. We are currently seeing applications to our destitution grants programme from Afghans living in Scotland who have been refused asylum and have their appeal rights exhausted; they are applying for emergency grants of up to £120 per week as they have no safety net and are subject to No Recourse to Public Funds. We implore the UK Government to take clear and decisive action for those people now.  

It is important to highlight that Glasgow City Council will not currently accept people seeking asylum as part of the UK Government’s ‘asylum seekers’ dispersal programme – a veto that could last a further 2 years. The reasons given: inadequate housing and financing from the Home Office. No solution has been forthcoming. The question here then is perhaps not the Scottish Government’s willingness to support refugees, but its capacity to do so. Given Glasgow was the sole dispersal programme council in Scotland, we are unsure how Scotland will be able to welcome Afghan people seeking safety who are not part of the very small numbers of the ARAP resettlement programme. It is simply not good enough to disavow responsibility as a reserved matter. Immigration is of course a reserved matter for Westminster, though refugee integration remains devolved. 

Let us not forget whist all of this is going on; the UK Government continue to advance their Nationality & Borders Bill through Parliament.  We believe this Bill is fundamentally flawed and not fit for purpose. The Bill will criminalise and dehumanise refugees and introduce concepts and systems which directly oppose the UN Refugee Convention 1951 and its protocols.  We implore the UK Government to stop this Bill and reconsider the significant negative humanitarian consequences, as well as the UK’s legal and moral global responsibilities. 

The UK Government Home Office have a propensity to disseminating harmful rhetoric on asylum issues, with the continued use of terms such as ‘illegal asylum seekers’ and ‘criminals’ fuelling hysteria, discrimination and creating unnecessary fear. Notably lost in these headlines are any facts and figures documenting how refugees support the UK economy, bring expertise, knowledge, and culture. Lost in these headlines are the real people who are fleeing from persecution, violence, and war, vulnerable, frightened, often traumatised, asking the UK for a safe haven for their families. 

The UK’s record on the numbers of people seeking asylum accepted as refugees is far lower than our European neighbours. In 2020, the UK received 36,041 asylum applications, just a quarter of those Germany received, and a third of those of France. Despite being the 2nd richest country in terms of GDP in Europe, we received only the 5th largest number of applications and only the 17th largest intake when measured on a per capita basis. And whilst the UK government point to their Syrian Settlement programme, an additional programme outside the usual asylum application route, as an example of UK support and a model for Afghan resettlement, the programme has failed to provide the levels of support we have capacity for, with just 20,319 refugees since 2015, whist for example, Germany accepted 560,000 and Sweden 100,000. 

Unsurprisingly, the Scottish and UK government cannot act in silo here. To fulfil our moral duty to support the most in-need citizens we need collaboration – collaboration over funding and collaboration over support offered to both refugees themselves and to councils, charities, and other providers. We need both governments to work together to ensure that the UK meet our responsibilities. 

We urge the UK & Scottish Governments to work together to: 

  • Increase the number of Afghans who will be welcomed to the UK in the coming weeks, months, and years 
  • Urgently review refused and appeal rights exhausted Afghan asylum cases and provide people with certainty and security 
  • Afghans currently in the asylum system, waiting for decisions should have their claims processed ‘quickly and compassionately’ by the Home Office 
  • Stop the progression of the UK Nationality & Borders Bill and introduce a humanitarian approach 
  • Work with Glasgow City Council to immediately resolve the current veto on accepting people seeking asylum  
  • Work together to ensure that the UK meets our humanitarian responsibilities 
  • Better collaborate with and fund the established network of third sector organisations who can quickly mobilise to offer crucial practical support to people seeking asylum 

Elaine Cameron 
Refugee Survival Trust

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