Briefing note - Scottish Parliament debate supporting the people of Afghanistan

Published: 2 September 2021

Key messages provided to Kaukab Stewart MSP, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Glasgow Kelvin, in advance Scottish Parliament debate on the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan (2 September 2021)

Refugee Integration Scotland 

Professor Alison Phipps 
Dr Dan Fisher 
UNESCO CHAIR for Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts  
University of Glasgow 

Key Messages 

  1. Humanitarian Response: Overseas Development Assistance 

    With ‘Operation Pitting’ concluded, humanitarian work in Afghanistan must continue with an acute focus on supporting those at risk. This must include refugees now forced to avail themselves of irregular routes to safety in neighbouring countries. Humanitarian assistance will be required within Afghanistan as winter approaches and the effects of war and conquest render those without the means to leave especially vulnerable. This would require at the very least a return to 0.7% ODA levels and focus on conflict transformation and trauma healing responses for Afghan refugees, with a focus on work with those who have crossed international borders and distribution to trusted partners able to offer humanitarian assistance in country, if and where this is still feasible. The 0.5% programmes have been cut world-wide, together with programmes focusing on the education and health of women and girls following the cut of ODA from 0.7% to 0.5% 

  2. International Obligations and the Global Compact on Refugees 

    UK Government must hold firmly to its international obligations under the Refugee Convention and the Global Compact on Refugees. “The Global Compact on Refugees is a framework for more predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing, recognizing that a sustainable solution to refugee situations cannot be achieved without international cooperation.” (UNHCR UK).  

    The four key objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees are to: 
    - Ease the pressures on host countries; 
    - Enhance refugee self-reliance; 
    - Expand access to third-country solutions; 
    - Support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity. 

    This compact and the convention are presently under threat from the UK Government’s New Plan for Immigration - at present in Committee Stage (see Royal Society of Edinburgh Briefing and Scottish Refugee Council Briefing - attached). The Refugee Convention and Human Rights are the foundations of the New Scots Refugee Integration Policy. It is vital that the Scottish Parliament uphold these rights for all. 

  3. Enhance Refugee Self-Reliance 

    The UK’s Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme (ACRS) is under way and Scotland will be receiving and housing those who have been evacuated. Local Authorities have developed considerable experience and expertise through participation in the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme established in 2015. ACRS must be trauma-informed, and build upon existing models of whole community development to be effective. It must also respect a key objective of the Global Compact - Enhance refugee self-reliance. In order to do this, it is vital that partnership working with local and Scottish Afghan Refugee Associations is co-ordinated. As with the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme the work of ensuring people find familiarity and comfort is greatly assisted by our own refugee communities in Scotland who work tirelessly to support new arrivals. It is imperative that their good will, knowledge and skills are respected and utilised for the common good, but not taken for granted or a substitute for a coordinated governmental national response. 

  4. New Scots Refugee Integration Policy 2018-2022 

    Resettlement in Scotland comes under the policy framework and partnership of the New Scots Refugee Integration Policy. This is a Human Rights-based policy focused on dignity for all. It has attracted international acclaim and is one of the leading models of integration world-wide, not least for its resolutely non-assimilationist, and community developmental approach.  

    The Policy will be renewed in 2022 and the Scottish Parliament should consider passing this framework into legislation. At present the work of the New Scots Partnership - Refugee Council, COSLA, Scottish Government with the UNESCO Chair for Refugee Integration at the University of Glasgow is unremunerated and relies on the voluntary actions of many agencies and civil society organisations, including refugee led initiatives, for its success. Whilst the AMIF funding from European Integration Fund is welcome it is insufficient to support the ongoing work in communities. The fact that the fund was heavily oversubscribed in 2021 demonstrates this especially in the area of language and culture. In particular the discontinuation of the ESOL strategy for Scotland, where research shows the fundamental importance of language for successful integration, all round, should be revisited as a policy decision. 

  5. Creation of Two-Tier System 

    Whilst a welcome initiative, the resettlement scheme institutes a two-tier system for those who have been forced to flee across international borders. Those on asylum support do not receive the same support as is offered in the measures offered to those on the resettlement scheme. This includes the Right to Work; Right to Vote. This also further compounds, as occurred with Syrian Resettlement, the situation for those seeking asylum from contexts which are not in the headlines. For instance, the catastrophic situation in Tigray and refugees fleeing to Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and towards Europe from the war, which includes Eritrean troop deployment requires similar resettlement support under the Global Compact. (see TRIGGER WARNING Amnesty International report on the situation for Women and Girls in Tigray, rape  and sexual violence as clear example). 

  6. Civil Society in Scotland: The need for patience and readiness 

    Civil society and refugee communities in Scotland continue to demonstrate their endless compassion and care with offers of help and donations for Afghani refugees who are being immediately resettled. In order for this compassion to translate into meaningful, consistent and sustained action, civil society must support and respect leadership of established organisations with long and diverse experience of working with asylum and refugee communities: Scottish Refugee Council, Maryhill Integration Network, Refuweegee, The Welcoming, and many relatively new initiatives local authorities. There is a firm basis of knowledge, resilience and self-reliance. There is also a danger of overwhelming new arrivals with too much information and care and not respecting the need for orientation, and the time it takes to build up a new, everyday life, gradually growing cultural and community bonds. The Scottish Refugee Council and Faith in Communities Scotland have both developed excellent plans of ‘How to Help’ as guides to those wishing to volunteer and take action. 

  7. Afghan Asylum Seekers Currently in the United Kingdom  

    The UK government has temporarily halted the removal of failed Afghan asylum seekers to Afghanistan. However, the UK government has not committed to pausing the determinations of asylum claims of Afghani asylum seekers in the UK. Government figures show that, as of 30th of June 2021, there are 3,213 asylum claimants from Afghanistan awaiting their initial decision. In addition, since January 2020, 637 Afghani asylum seekers have either had their asylum claim refused (including third country refusals).1 As a result, many will have lost their entitlement to support provided under Section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and will currently be destitute. Some might be entitled to support under Section 4 of the same Act, but this is neither automatic nor guaranteed. The Scottish Parliament should therefore consider encouraging the UK Government to (i) pause all current asylum determinations of cases from Afghanistan, (ii) commit to providing all failed Afghan asylum seekers in the UK with support under Section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, and (iii) halt any removals of Afghan asylum seekers to safe third countries until the situation in Afghanistan is resolved.

Download full briefing with policy context and references: Policy Briefing Scottish Parliament Debate on Afghanistan (2 Sept 21) (PDF)

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First published: 2 September 2021