Everybody has a right to seek asylum in another country. Many people fleeing war, persecution or a difficult political situation will travel without papers or have to use unofficial routes to enter a safe country. Suella Braverman’s hard line on those entering the UK ‘illegally’ is injuring those in need of sanctuary. According to the Refugee Council, Afghans currently make up the second largest group (around 20 per cent) undertaking the dangerous cross-Channel journey by boat.
Last month, a group of free-expression organisations wrote to the UK home secretary to highlight the dire situation facing numerous Afghan journalists, media workers and writers. As conditions in their home country deteriorate, journalists, especially women, find themselves at increased risk. It is imperative that the UK government honours its pledges to provide sanctuary to those at risk through the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS).
PEN and other lobby groups have received numerous requests from Afghan journalists still in Afghanistan or in neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and Iran. Many live in fear because of their profession and are desperate to be relocated. The home secretary’s failure to offer a safe route to the UK to Afghan journalists has left them vulnerable to kidnap, arrest and assassination. The experiences of eight Afghan journalists, former employees of the BBC and other agencies who have recently had their visa applications reopened after a legal action against the UK government demonstrate the urgent need to provide Afghan journalists with a safe passage to the West.
The government launched ACRS in 2022, offering three pathways to resettlement in the UK, the first being for evacuees, the second being for refugees referred by the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees and the third being for at-risk individuals who had assisted the British in Afghanistan. The first window for applications to join Pathway 3 opened in June and closed two months later. The government stated that ‘beyond the first year of ACRS’ it would ‘welcome wider groups of Afghans at risk’ by expanding the eligibility criteria of Pathway 3. However, Pathway 3 remains closed to new applicants, and the government has provided no information as to when it will reopen.
This lack of clarity extends to the fate of Afghan journalists based in other countries. On 3 February, the Afghanistan Journalists’ Support Organization reported that a number of Afghan journalists had been arrested in Islamabad. Their phones, laptops, cameras and other electronic and personal devices were seized and inspected. The journalists were later released, but worryingly this incident followed claims that the Pakistani authorities had deported six hundred Afghans, including women and children.
One female broadcast journalist, who worked as a news anchor, presenter and reporter in Afghanistan, shared her story with Index on Censorship: ‘I have confronted many things from house raids, serious threats, online bullying, digital and cyber-attacks and harassment. I had received several threats from the Taliban before their rise to power … I had to change my mobile number multiple times due to threats and harassment … After the takeover of Kabul … I had to go into hiding and luckily I narrowly escaped a day before the raid of my house by the Taliban.’
She managed to reach Pakistan in October 2021, but life there has proved little easier than in Afghanistan:
I have been living alone in Pakistan away from my family and loved ones with no job and livelihood … I have been forced to live in unhygienic slums … spent many days without food … been ill many times … and have been suffering from mental health issues like anxiety, depression, insomnia, and stress … I have gone through hell – Pakistan is little different to Afghanistan. Here too there are Taliban sympathisers. There is no safety, no job opportunities … There is much discrimination, racism and prejudice … There is hostility towards Afghan people … My situation is getting worse due to the long wait to relocate to a safe country … In December 2022, the Pakistani authorities announced that any Afghan without any valid visa will be arrested and put into prison for three years or deported back to Afghanistan … We all are really scared. I am asking for assistance in relocating to any safe country where I could continue my journalism safely, complete my education and work to support myself and my family. In addition to serious threats for my life there is no future back home for women right now. There is a ban on education for women, a ban on women working in the media and NGOs and a ban on free movement of women outside without the veil and a male guardian … I hope my plea will be heard … and a hand of support will be extended.
Readers might like to send appeals requesting information about when Pathway 3 of ACRS will be reopened for at-risk Afghans; seeking clarification as to how the UK government is responding to the needs of vulnerable Afghan journalists, media workers and writers; and urging the government to engage with the Pakistani authorities to ensure that all Afghan journalists are protected from any acts that could endanger their safety and that they be relocated to a safe country, such as the UK, as a matter of urgency.
Appeals to be addressed to:
The Rt Hon Suella Braverman MP
2 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DF
The Rt Hon James Cleverly MP
Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Affairs
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA
Send copies to:
Mark Logan MP
Chair of the Afghanistan All-Party Parliamentary Group
Sir John Whittingdale MP
Chair of the Press Freedom All-Party Parliamentary Group