By Anna Noble
I wrote a draft of this article a few days ago, but the situation in Afghanistan has escalated so quickly it had to be discarded. Gone are the hypotheticals, the ‘what ifs.’ The Taliban have taken Kabul, regaining control of Afghanistan for the first time in 20 years. What is left now is a reality that makes for grim reading.
Make no mistake, the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan is a humanitarian catastrophe.
Despite claims from their spokesman Suhail Shaheen that there will be a new era of peace and women’s rights will be respected, in reality it appears that women’s rights are set to evaporate. The Taliban have repeatedly broken such promises in the past and history seems to be repeating itself. There are reports that women have been turned away from their jobs and universities and girls as young as 12 have been kidnapped to become wives. Adverts using pictures of women have already been painted over.
Social media is now flooded with stories of those trapped in Afghanistan. A journalist with RFERL Afghanistan has been posting regular updates on Twitter about the situation in Kabul under the name Mustafa 47 (@CombatJourno). He tweeted that he was “helplessly stuck in Kabul” with his wife and 11-month-old daughter. Thousands of others, like him, are now in real danger. An article published in The Guardian last week detailed the plight of a female journalist on the run: “Last week I was a news journalist, this week I cannot write my name.”
As I am writing this article, I am watching footage of the chaos at Kabul airport where people are clinging to moving aircrafts. There are reports of people falling to their deaths from these planes as they take off. They are desperate and who can blame them?
Ethnic minorities, women, children, those belonging to the LGBTQA+ community, journalists, and former government workers are in a very precarious situation. Their lives are at risk. The entire population faces the return of the Taliban’s brutal interpretation of law and order, with stoning and amputations feared to become commonplace once more.
The situation in Afghanistan has shocked the world. The US had advised that Kabul could potentially fall to the Taliban within weeks, not a mere matter of days. The front page of the Daily Mail on Monday read ‘What the hell did they all die for?’ pointing to the 457 British lives lost during the 20-year conflict. This is a question many will ask as scrutiny of Boris Johnson and Joe Biden grows. The Republicans have scrambled to erase Donald Trump’s role in the crisis. However, his deals with the Taliban, which led to the release of the person who now leads the Taliban in Afghanistan, as well as the initial commitment to withdraw troops, also deserve scrutiny. The rest of the world can do little but watch, fearing for a population, with the knowledge that the US and the UK have effectively abandoned them.
A refugee crisis is now inevitable, and it is a reality that should not be judged. Being born in a safe country is down to luck and luck alone. Most of the West will never know what it is like to live in a war zone constantly fearing for your life, to be denied education, and to be subject to a regime where the slightest indiscretion can lead to brutal punishment.
According to the UN, 400,000 people have fled Afghanistan this year, with 250,000 people having fled since May. In the coming months, it is probable this number will skyrocket.
When asked about the situation in Afghanistan and the impact this will have on refugees in an interview with Sky News, former Secretary of State for International Development Rory Stewart responded that the UK has an obligation to help and that we “ought to, because this is our fault”. He is right. Experts have stated that the Taliban are more powerful now than they were when US and UK forces entered Afghanistan 20 years ago.
Just days before Kabul fell, the Foreign Office blocked visas to travel to the UK to take up their Chevening scholarships, initially stating they were delaying the programme for a year after not being able to administer visas as the embassy in Kabul was being evacuated. With fears that these students may become targets for the Taliban, it has been pointed out that there is no guarantee that these students would ever be allowed out of the country or will even be alive next year. After outrage concerning this, Boris Johnson has intervened to try and solve the visa issue, however, it still may be too late.
Following this, reports say that the Home Office was initially reluctant to grant those fleeing the Taliban asylum, in case it sends out a message to other refugees. If true, this is unfathomable, as the global asylum system is designed for situations like this: people fleeing a country where their life is under threat. Whilst the UK has now committed to accepting 20,000 Afghan refugees, what is really needed is for the UK to commit to safe and legal routes for refugees from Afghanistan to get to the UK and claim asylum.
Some will argue it is not our duty to take in refugees from Afghanistan, and that closer countries should instead. I disagree. As Stewart highlighted, this is our fault; the speed at which the Taliban managed to reassert control in Afghanistan should be seen as a foreign policy failure of the US and UK since they led both the invasion and the withdrawal. The UK and US have benefited from the help of the Afghan population, and we cannot now abandon them when they need our help. While neighbouring countries are accepting refugees, with Pakistan offering emergency visas, they cannot take everyone. Western countries should commit to a fair burden-sharing arrangement.
The international community has failed in humanitarian crises before, and Afghanistan’s population deserves more. They deserve our help. Their government cannot protect them, and Taliban rule poses a danger to millions.
Image: United Nations Photo via Flickr