Friday, August 12

For Afghan refugees, Britain’s warm welcome will soon turn into cold comfort | Nesrine Malik


For in a brief moment, it would appear that the UK is not that “full” as the government launches Operation Warm Welcome to relocate refugees from Afghanistan. As the name suggests, evoking bold military action in the face of the Taliban’s triumph, this change in attitude is the result of a unique combination of guilt, media attention, and a kind of colonial obligation to help those who helped us.

There will be photos of grateful families arriving in the UK and serious promises from politicians that Britain will do its part. But soon these headlines will disappear; and as Afghanistan recedes from our consciousness, those we have let in will be left with the cold task of building a life in the UK.

In the war movie script of the dramatic takeover by the Taliban, the film ends with the British showing compassion and selflessness in saving thousands of lives. But once the credits roll in and the audience leaves, no attention will be paid to what comes after the welcome. Refugees will soon discover that British generosity extends little beyond the point of entry.

What awaits is another trial. In addition to the ravages of relocation, there will be the heartache of navigating an immigration system that is cruel and chaotic. Refugees will find themselves at the intersection of the country’s two most compromised institutions: a punitive Interior Ministry and underfunded local councils.

Cracks are already beginning to appear. About 10,000 Afghan refugees are currently staying in quarantine hotels across the UK, with little more than suitcases that they were allowed to carry on evacuation flights. The infrastructure that has found them has been, as any refugee, immigrant or asylum seeker in the UK will immediately recognize, mostly informal, voluntary and, in the long run, utterly unsustainable.

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A network of non-governmental organizations and volunteers has maintained the reception until now. The West London-based Afghan charity Afghanistan and the Central Asian Association have been overwhelmed by requests for basic supplies and legal advice, and by organizing foster homes for unaccompanied minors. Its founder, Nooralhaq Nasimi, came to the UK as a refugee in 1999 and established the organization to help others overcome the challenges he and his family faced. His small team of volunteers has spread out and he is alone. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get any support from the council or the government,” he told me.

Once evacuees emerge from quarantine, they will almost certainly be faced with housing shortages, bureaucratic heists and poor translation services, despite high-profile funding promises. For every shortcut the government manages to make, a barrier is erected. Westminster constantly makes promises that the Home Office cannot keep.

Make the decision to resettle high-risk Afghans to the UK indefinitely, an indefinite immigration status that allows them to work in the UK and eventually apply for a British passport. Your visas will be processed and expedited. no fees; they will be exempt from some of the usual paperwork requirements and will have exceptional banking privileges that will allow refugees to open bank accounts that allow them to work without permanent addresses.

But the system is not articulated in that way, so applicants will have to ping-pong between the bank, the employer, the Ministry of the Interior and the city hall. Most likely they will have to do it from temporary accommodation. Hotel stays should be extended until the housing stock is secured. “Bridge solutions,” such as military barracks run by private companies, will serve the transition. The first state that Afghan evacuees can look forward to after their arrival is a waiting limbo.

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In this limbo, they will join, despite immediate political attention and swift monitoring of their entries, the other thousands of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants traversing the melting pot of Britain’s settlement system. In it, they will risk harassment from the far right within their temporary accommodation and will experience deteriorating mental health as well as lack of access to medical care.

The Afghan evacuation had to happen suddenly, but even if there were time, settlement difficulties would have been unavoidable. Years of intentional politics have created an immigration and asylum network that allocates as few resources as possible to those inside, from allowing local authorities to veto Interior Ministry requests to house asylum seekers to shifting cargo. legal to challenge unfair decisions that reject settlement at a broader level. charities.

The heroism of helping the dispossessed, both by the government and by the thousands of Britons who send donations, stands in stark contrast to the usual status quo: indifference to the plight of asylum seekers, at best, and hostility towards them. worst. The focus on the grand gestures of saving our aides from the evil Taliban allows us to see the British as heroes. But some of the moral outrage that unleashed that epic effort to help those who desperately need help must be addressed internally. It is not enough to save a life if it is later condemned to languish in the purgatory of the process. Soon, the warm welcome from Great Britain will freeze into a cold reception.


www.theguardian.com

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