On 20 October there will be a demonstration for refugee rights in Parliament Square. The organisers, Solidarity with Refugees and Women for Refugee Women, say:
“The government has committed to take 20,000 Afghan refugees over the next five years. But that isn’t enough, and lacks the necessary urgency. While we are hearing accounts of mothers throwing their babies over razor wire in desperation in the face of the horrors facing them under the Taliban, the UK government plans to make people wait years for resettlement, and to imprison any who manage to flee to the UK by other means… We can and must do more to welcome refugees, and not just Afghans.
“Through this rally, we want to show the Government that we oppose [the Nationality and Borders] Bill, and that we want to live in a humane and welcoming society.”
Trade unionists and Labour Party activists should mobilise for this rally and others around country.
Afghanistan’s population is only 60% of the UK’s, but there now millions of Afghan refugees in the world (in addition to millions internally displaced). 2.6 million are registered with the UN refugee agency UNHCR, but some reports suggest similar number to that in Pakistan alone.
Pakistan, the Taliban’s most important backer, has deported hundreds of refugees back to Afghanistan since the Taliban took power — and put thousands more on one-month visas and thus presumably at severe risk of deportation.
Despite their vast size, India and China will take few Afghan refugees. The Indian government in particular does not want to accept more Muslims into the country and the Chinese government is keen on developing its relationship with the Taliban. The US government has done better than the UK, with 120,000 Afghans accepted since the start of August, but the numbers are still small relative to its size and wealth.
Many other European states are following the UK’s meanness. The German government of Angela Merkel, which has taken upwards of half a million Syrian refugees, has suggested it will only accept 10,000 Afghans. Even though Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU alliance may well lose the general election there on 26 September, a right-wing backlash against refugees seems to be winning.
CDU/CSU chancellor candidate Armin Laschet has said that “the mistakes regarding the Syrian civil war [i.e. accepting so many refugees] must not be made again”.
The leader of the “liberal” FDP has suggested that by accepting Syrian refugees Germany “failed to look after local workers”. The Social Democratic candidate for chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has said tried to marry opposing refugees with sounding progressive by saying that they should go to countries neighbouring Afghanistan.
“Instead of spreading fear and panic”, argued the spokeswoman of the Refugee Council of Brandenburg (the area surrounding Berlin), “Germany — as one of the richest countries in the world — should lead by example by taking in refugees from Afghanistan.” The real “mistake” made in 2015, she added, was housing refugees in “inhumane conditions”.
It is the same argument here — except that the UK’s past record is worse than Germany’s! So far the arguments have been made mainly by NGOs and shoe-string campaigns.
The labour movement should mobilise its voice and its weight to force the government to change course.