Social workers condemn "crisis of leadership" over treatment of Afghan asylum-seekers

Organisations representing social workers have written to the Home Secretary and other ministers criticising the Government’s handling of the ongoing crisis.

01/09/21

Social workers condemn "crisis of leadership" over treatment of Afghan asylum-seekers

Four organisations representing social workers have written to Government ministers condemning its treatment of asylum-seekers from Afghanistan.

Social Workers Without Borders, BASW, the Social Workers Union, and Social Work Action Network said they felt “compelled” to write to Home Secretary Priti Patel after what they see as a “crisis of leadership” from the Government in response to the situation in Afghanistan.

The UK Government has offered to resettle 5000 people this year and a further 15,000 over the next 5 years following the chaotic withdrawal of armed forces leaving the country last month.

“We refute the Government’s claim to be acting with generosity and compassion, and ask the Government to do more, much more,” the letter said.

“After 20 years of military action in Afghanistan it is not a case of being “generous” it is about taking responsibility for the role the British Government has played in the war and Afghan society, and it is our duty not to abandon Afghans.”

“Currently there appears to be a breakdown in the ability of central government and local government to work together and ensure that the needs of asylum-seekers and refugees are being met. This is resulting in a crisis of care.”

The organisations involved, which represent more than 20,000 social workers, say the current crisis has exposed the “inhumanity and unworkability” of the Nationality and Borders Bill that is currently going through parliament.

The Bill, in its current form, says that anyone who arrives in the UK via an unofficial route will be considered to have entered the UK illegally and would subsequently be denied the same rights as a person who arrives in the UK via a state-sanctioned resettlement programme. These refugees would not have the same family reunification rights, would have limited access to public services and would never be granted permanent settled status.

“Given the fact that the best the Government is claiming they can do for the Afghan people, is offer to resettle 5000 people in 1 year, then what hope is left for those who are unable to access these resettlement schemes but to try and make their own way to safety?” the letter said.

The official deadline for refugees to be evacuated from Afghanistan passed on 31st August, however, talks with the Taliban are said to be ongoing in Qatar to extend this date. It is estimated that between 150 and 250 people – and their families – eligible for relocation are still in the country.

On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said more than 17,000 people had been evacuated by the UK from Afghanistan so far, including over 5,000 UK nationals.

The letter comes as the Home Office announces its plans for arrivals under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, dubbed ‘Operation Warm Welcome’. The Government announced that those coming to the UK through resettlement routes would receive immediate indefinite leave to remain but have not made the same promises for those coming through unofficial routes.

Priti Patel said the country “owes a great deal” to the “brave Afghans” who worked alongside the UK, saying she wants to make sure they have “certainty and stability” to be able to thrive in the UK.

“By providing immediate indefinite leave to remain we are ensuring that those who have fled their homes have every opportunity to look to the future with stability and security and make a success of their new life in the UK.”

Operation Warm Welcome will also provide £5 million funding for councils in England, Wales, and Scotland to support Afghans coming to the UK via the ARAP scheme and provide a ‘top up’ to help meet the costs of renting properties.

Last year the Government was advised by civil servants that there is an inadequate supply of suitable accommodation for asylum-seekers and that the solution to the problem was to mandate local authorities to make provision for this type of accommodation.

However, the Government did not act on this recommendation and continued to place people in hotel and army barrack accommodation, which the authors of the letter say is “unsuitable, dirty, overcrowded” and “costs the tax-payer more”.

The Home Office says it is already working with more than 100 councils across the UK to meet the demand for housing in response to the situation in Afghanistan, with over 2,000 places already confirmed.

The coalition is calling on the Government to abandon the 'resettlement-only' plans set out in the Nationality and Borders Bill and grant immediate asylum to Afghans already waiting for status in the UK. They also recommend that all Afghan nationals be released from Home Office detention, as well as the expansion of the family reunion route which would mean that Afghans can be joined by other members of their family, such as parents and siblings.

“As social workers, we demand that we are supported to carry-out our legal duties, as enshrined in the Children Acts 1989 and 2004, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989,” the group said in the letter.

“The Government must act now to ensure that there are no further tragedies and that lives are not knowingly placed at risk. The negligence must stop.”

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