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18 August 2021

Why the government’s pledge to take 20,000 Afghan refugees is inadequate

Twenty thousand is the same number Britain resettled from Syria, a country close to half the size of Afghanistan – and in practice, the total may be smaller.

By Stephen Bush

Parliament has been recalled to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, as the government has announced it will take 20,000 Afghan refugees – though when you look at the small print, the actual figure this year is 5,000. 

Although parliament is discussing a so-called “neutral motion”, which cannot be amended and also means that Boris Johnson can, if he chooses, rock up, say his piece, and then leave in short order, the main reason why the government has announced this measure is to minimise the public criticism from its own backbenchers. 

That said, it is a relatively small amount. The 20,000 figure is the same number we resettled from Syria, a country close to half the size of Afghanistan. In practice, it may be smaller even than that: because the United Kingdom has prioritised religious minorities and women and girls, who are most at risk from the Taliban takeover. 

The trouble is that because there are no direct routes from Afghanistan itself, in practice the refugees the United Kingdom will be welcoming are people who will have made covert crossings by land or sea to neighbouring countries, who are more likely to be men and boys, and the history of the Home Office quibbling the religious commitment or indeed the sexuality of refugees is long, well-established and grubby. 

MPs and peers have a job of work to do if they are to make sure that the UK’s commitment to Afghanistan’s people is anything like the claimed 20,000 within the next five years. 

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