World Jewish Relief remains deeply concerned by the situation in Afghanistan. While media focus is understandably on the horrors at Kabul airport and the pending arrival of Afghans resettled to the UK, the greatest level of need remains undoubtedly in Afghanistan itself. Poverty, food insecurity, Covid and massive internal displacement leaves 18 million people in immediate need of assistance. For women and girls, these issues, and risks to their safety, are even more acute.
Humanitarian access throughout Afghanistan is critical so that local and international actors can continue to provide aid across the country. Without a local partner and in such fraught circumstances, we are unfortunately not able to work on the ground in Afghanistan ourselves.
The majority of Afghans who have fled the country are in the neighbouring states of Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and more than 300,000 currently reside in Turkey. International support must assist these nations to provide protection and help to these Afghan refugees. To this end, we are in contact with our partner in Turkey, the International Blue Crescent, to assess the current needs of Afghan refugees arriving, and are considering how we might be able to respond.
Here in the UK, we are greatly encouraged by the outpouring of empathy and offers of support from across the Jewish community to the Government’s planned Afghan resettlement schemes. The Government has announced that in its first year, the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ARCS) will welcome up to 5,000 Afghans to the UK who have been forced to flee the country, with up to a total of 20,000 in the long-term. Priority will be given to women and girls, and religious and other minorities, who are most at risk of human rights abuses and persecution by the Taliban. This new scheme is in addition to the Afghan nationals who were former employees of the UK government and are being relocated to the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP).
We would, however, like to see this scheme be more ambitious in its scale and scope over the next five years.
We have all learned lessons from the largely positive Syrian Refugee resettlement programme, which highlighted the importance of long-term planning, sufficient resourcing and strong collaboration between central government, local authorities, local communities, refugee agencies, employers and other actors if successful integration is to be achieved.
World Jewish Relief has been an active and engaged part of the resettlement process over the last five years, delivering our Specialist Training and Employment Programme to refugees in 16 locations. We are poised to scale up this service to assist incoming Afghan refugees ensuring the programme adapts to cultural needs.
The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme will not be accessible to everyone trying to flee. Others will seek to escape Afghanistan by whatever means available to them. We hope that Government will provide protection and support to those reaching the UK in other ways.
Driven by our community’s history and by our concern and empathy for those desperately seeking sanctuary, we will continue to encourage the UK to open its doors widely to Afghans and other refugees at this time.