A Moral Perplexity: Deporting Britain’s Afghan Refugees

When Western coalition forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 due to the Taliban’s offer of sanctuary for Osama Bin Laden, the Afghan population was compressed between the Taliban’s brutal theocracy and British and American promises at democratic freedom; to be seen to co-operate with the invaders meant certain death, but to comply with the Taliban also spelled a life of uncertain coercion. Either way, the Afghan citizen was stuck in a cycle of unprecedented struggle.

Warfare in the modern age is undeniably catastrophic and the likelihood of a humanitarian disaster occurring as a direct consequence of military conflict is absolutely certain. Afghanistan is a country that has been failing for decades; it has one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world, and has rarely seen a governing body in the past 40 years that has anything but fractional support. Its economy is in tatters, and opium which just happens to sustain 1.5% of its desolate population also qualifies as one of the countries largest exports, contributing to 85% of the worlds heroin supply.

Afghan refugees.
Afghan refugees.

The British government back in 2006 were in a tense predicament having helped contribute to widespread depravity in Afghanistan, and decided to grant 5,500 Afghan children temporary residence in the UK placing some with foster families. These children sought asylum and were fleeing from a war-torn and impoverished country, however, as the BBC has exposed, many now face deportation at the age of 18 if their case to stay in the UK is rejected.

This was an exceptionally humane proposition by the British government which should be commended for offering these children a settled and comfortable life during their adolescent years. In a country where 31% of its children in 1999 were injured by land mines and where children are often forcibly indoctrinated and relied upon as militants, leading to the demobilisation 2,205 Afghan children in 2004, the offer to reside in the UK would apparently appear as a ‘God-send’.

Fourteen years on since the invasion, little has changed in Afghanistan despite our concentrated efforts to leave behind a strengthened and secure national country. The Taliban still harass tribal communities and terrorise population centres such as Kabul, going so far as to attack the Afghan Parliament last month. It would seem contrary, therefore, to the meaning of ‘seeking asylum’ to then deport the very people who fled the country ten years ago for a variety of grievances and traumas which still plague Afghanistan in 2015.

An example of how Afghan children suffered during the conflict. This child was injured during an air raid.
An example of how Afghan children suffered during the conflict. This child was injured during an air raid.

Many of these Afghans have enjoyed an opportunity to study and gain an education, acquire friends and enjoy common sporting hobbies and socialising alike. They have been exposed to a liberal society which we have proudly created and cherish. The British culture is at a juxtaposition with Afghan society, where you go out to a nightclub on a Saturday night without the fear of being shot, kidnapped or blown up. These refugees have created a stable life for themselves with aspiration unlike their counterparts in Afghanistan that despair with the lack of social mobility and religio-political suppression.

There are countless obstacles that these deportees must overcome when returning to Afghanistan, predominantly the fact that they have spent a large proportion of their adolescence growing up in a western culture, within a liberal and secular society. They may face difficulty translating the linguistics of Pashtun for example, or their understanding of Islam may have lessened excluding them from a population that will have been schooled in Islamic thought from an early age. These deportees will experience sharp unemployment around the 40% mark, and will undoubtedly feel socially isolated and disadvantaged against their relative age groups in the native city or village.

The current migrant crisis in Calais surrounding the swathes of migrants attempting to cross the channel into the UK concerns this same debate. The mass number of Africans fleeing the continent, specifically from countries such as Eritrea, Somalia and the Sudan, have caused havoc not just along the Mediterranean coastlines and Calais but also in Kent where locals complain about traffic noise from delayed trucks waiting to cross the channel. More precisely, however, European powers and the EU as a whole are reluctant to ‘send them on their way’ back to these countries for the simple reason that they are ravaged by war; these migrants seek asylum, and no European government has outright refuted them in their attempt to escape their home countries.

Aftermath of the attack on the Afghan Parliament
Aftermath of the attack on the Afghan Parliament

Why then should Afghan refugees be treated any differently with their claim to stay in the UK? It seems a callous manoeuvre to deport individuals who have built a life for themselves in the UK, whilst adopting an ambiguous tone concerning the status of fleeing migrants from countries with the same level of poverty and conflict as seen in Afghanistan. All the government is achieving is prolonging the already ungovernable migrant issue as these deportees join the rest of the ‘asylum seekers’ making the treacherous and illicit trek into Europe, yet these Afghans will be making a return trip.

The British government in 2006 lent these Afghans a life of prosperity and now they are retracting their offer by allowing these individuals to plunge back into a hell they thought they had escaped.


This post relates predominantly to a show on the deportation of Afghan refugees in the UK which I came across on the BBC programme, ‘Our World’. A link to a magazine article about the documentary can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-33524193

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