openDemocracyUK: News

UK government rejected more than 32,000 Afghan asylum seekers

Exclusive: The Home Office has rejected at least 76 Afghan nationals’ requests for asylum in 2021 alone – including ten women and a girl

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Martin Williams
16 August 2021, 4.18pm
UK authorities have taken a hard line against asylum seekers since entering Afghanistan 20 years ago
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Guy Corbishley / Alamy Stock Photo

The UK government has rejected more than 32,000 Afghan asylum seekers since the Western invasion of the country in 2001, openDemocracy can reveal.

Of 65,000 initial decisions, almost half were rejections – although some were later reversed after appeals.

More than 76 Afghan nationals have had asylum applications rejected so far this year alone, including ten women and one girl.

The figures come as thousands of people desperately try to flee Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the country and stormed the presidential palace.

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The UK government is now being urged to allow more Afghan workers to settle in the UK, while critics say it is already “pulling up the drawbridge”.

Official records show that British authorities have taken a hard line against asylum seekers ever since Western forces entered Afghanistan 20 years ago.

Since 2009, around 2,600 Afghan women have had their initial asylum applications rejected. This includes nearly 875 girls under the age of 18, of which six were unaccompanied children.

The Taliban killed my mum, my dad and my brother. I’m not going to let them kill me, too

One woman, Samira Kitman, requested asylum in 2016 after being targeted by men who she believed to be working for the Taliban.

Kitman had previously been voted Afghan businesswoman of the year and had her artwork displayed at the V&A museum in London. But her application was rejected by the Home Office, which said she had “not shown that there are substantial grounds for believing that you face a real risk of suffering serious harm” in Afghanistan.

A year later, The Guardian reported that Kitman was still unable to get a job in the UK because of her rejected application, and was living on £5 a day in a shared house. The government eventually admitted it had not realised the risks she faced in Afghanistan and granted her permission to stay in the UK following an appeal.

Another asylum seeker, Samim Bigzad, was illegally deported back to Afghanistan in 2017 after the British government defied a court order not to send him.

The 23-year-old was brought back to the UK only after a lengthy legal battle and thanked the judges for saving his life. “If I had been forced to stay in Afghanistan I believe I would have been killed by the Taliban,” he said.

A teenage asylum seeker, Idress Wazeer, twice attempted to take his own life in a British immigration detention centre in 2017. Reports said that he had vowed to kill himself rather than be forcibly flown back to Kabul.

“The Taliban killed my mum, my dad and my brother,” he said. “I’m not going to let them kill me, too.”

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Today, the defence minister Ben Wallace said the government would “try our very best” to get those who are eligible out of Afghanistan, but conceded that “some people won't get back”.

He admitted that a return of British forces to Afghanistan was “not on the cards”, saying the UK would instead aim to help between 1,200 to 1,500 people leave the country every day.

“The tragic situation in Afghanistan is a real-time example of why we need a strong asylum system,” Tim Naor Hilton, CEO of Refugee Action, told openDemocracy. “Yet as the world witnesses millions of Afghans scrambling to seek safety, the government is busy pulling up the drawbridge.”

Hilton said that current government proposals would “effectively end the asylum system in the UK and offer no alternative routes to safety”.

Under the plans, “Afghans arriving in the UK this week would be met with punishment, not protection,” he said. “Instead of whipping up hostility against those risking their lives to find shelter on our shores, we are calling on the government to build a refugee-protection system that actually provides safety.”

Last week, six EU member states urged the EU Commission to continue deporting rejected asylum seekers back to Afghanistan.

The member states, which include Germany and Belgium, said: “Stopping returns sends the wrong signal and is likely to motivate even more Afghan citizens to leave their home for the EU.”

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: "No one should be in any doubt of our commitment to build upon our proud history of resettling refugees in need of protection."

"We have so far resettled over 3,300 Afghan interpreters, staff and their families who served alongside our brave military. Our officials are working as quickly as possible to bring more people to safety in the United Kingdom."

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