Is Boris Johnson siding with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace over the role of military intelligence in Britain’s “chaotic and catastrophic” withdrawal?
These are big political questions.
But they distract from something far more important.
The second betrayal of the Afghan people, that’s about to be inflicted – in our name.
How is it acceptable that the vast majority of terrified people crossing continents to reach safety in Britain will instead be criminalised on arrival by Priti Patel’s obnoxious Nationality and Borders Bill?
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) 30,000 people have been fleeing Afghanistan every week since early summer – 80 per cent of them women and children. Many are heading for Britain because they speak English, have relatives here and believed the British promise of a warm welcome and an open door.
God help them, they took Boris Johnson at his word.
But despite his promise that Britain will prioritise women and children for asylum, claims will be invalid and asylum seekers will be liable to indefinite immigration detention, perhaps in an offshore prison, if they arrive “spontaneously”, by air or sea. Such folk will be classified “Group 2” refugees, and even if their asylum claims are finally approved, they’ll likely have less time to stay in the UK, no recourse to public funds, and no right to have family members join them.
This despite the fact two-thirds of all the folk recently granted asylum have not travelled here via British Government resettlement schemes
The only hope for “irregular” arrivals is that the Nationality and Borders Bill – currently at its committee stage – doesn’t become law before their claims are processed. But given the vast backlog of asylum applications, it’s likely the cruel two-tier system will be in place when the Afghans walking to Britain actually arrive. Even though the UNHCR says the distinction between “official” and “irregular” asylum seekers violates the Refugee Convention, drafted by the UK in 1951.
Now its chief signatory will mark that 70th anniversary by undermining the whole concept of refugee status. And the first to suffer will be Afghans who put their lives in our hands.
The callous genesis of the Nationality and Borders Bill is easy to trace.
Over the past five years, 215,000 unaccompanied children applied for asylum in the European Union – many witness to unimaginable horrors in Taliban controlled parts of Afghanistan. But only a few hundred were accepted by Britain and only after litigation by a charity. Last year the Government closed even this modest scheme.
Meanwhile it has deported 16,000 migrants back to Afghanistan since 2008 – a shameful total that exceeds Germany, France and Belgium combined and includes unaccompanied Afghans who’ve turned 18.
Unbelievably, during the Taliban’s steady advance, a third of Afghan asylum seekers had their claims rejected by the Home Office on the grounds that, “the proportion of the population affected by indiscriminate violence is small and not at a level where a returnee… would face a serious and individual threat to their life”.
This guidance only changed a few weeks ago, when Kabul finally fell. So, until the day people were filmed falling from the wings of evacuation flights, Afghans reaching Britain were having to prove that “individual circumstances” put them at risk, because the situation at home was considered essentially safe.
It was a nonsense, but one the Home Office could get away with since few in the government, Tory party or media were paying much attention.
You’d think the horror of recent weeks might have changed that.
But you’d be wrong.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has already said no exceptions will be made for Afghan refugees arriving in small boats across the Channel once the Nationality and Borders Bill becomes law. They face four years in jail.
And life isn’t a bed of roses for the “lucky” folk flown into the UK while the Taliban took control. Thousands are eligible for help under the official Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap). But very little government cash has been delivered to councils and Liverpool’s Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham has described the Arap scheme as “a shambles at every level”.
It’s more than a shambles. It’s a calculated betrayal of the Afghan people.
Abandoned in Kabul, criminalised in Britain and dumped in cities without cash for housing, education and support, even when they arrive the “right” way. All of it, in our name. The price of voting No.
Of course, Britain claims it has worked hard on nation-building, protecting minorities and embedding democracy. All our post-colonial interventions are justified by warm words and comforting illusions – like the happy, empty idea that the Commonwealth means more than the Queen traipsing endlessly around the world. Britain’s humanitarianism has always been a front. Ask the disposable Windrush generation.
The harsh fate that awaits Afghans reaching Britain will hurt us too. It will demolish any lingering claim that Britain is a civilised, global or caring society. Britain lies. It invades when it wants and leaves when it suits. It sells weapons to both sides, promises help whilst planning an abrupt exit or a beach holiday and plans to jail asylum seekers crossing the Channel to arrive here, whilst urging them to cross borders into Iran, Pakistan and beyond. It’s one rule for Britain and another for everyone else – as usual.
The snag is, the rest of the world won’t play ball.
Under the new legislation, Border Force agents will be able to intercept boats in the Channel and send them back to France – but they need permission first. France has already said it won’t take back refugees and no other EU member is obliged to accept “returns”.Patel’s other options are equally forlorn – sending asylum seekers home regardless of likely persecution there, or threatening to block visas for countries which refuse her deal.
It’s a mess.
But there is another option.
Tory MPs can join opposition parties in voting this measure down.
That will take political courage – but very little compared to the men, women and children bravely inching their way towards the uncaring island of Britain.
Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.