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University and college staff tell PM to open up Afghanistan refugee route

17 August 2021

UCU has demanded prime minister Boris Johnson take urgent steps to protect those most at risk in Afghanistan by opening up a specific, legal refugee route to the UK and to give those who have relatives working or studying in the UK the right to reunite.

The demands came in a letter signed by UCU general secretary Jo Grady sent yesterday, Monday 16 August. 

The letter states: 

Dear Prime Minister,   

I am writing on behalf of the University and College Union (UCU) in response to the developing situation in Afghanistan, to urge the UK government to act swiftly in protecting those most at risk as Afghanistan falls under the control of the Taliban.  

We know that many Afghan nationals - including women, LGBT+ people, those from certain ethnic minority groups, trade unionists and pro-democracy campaigners, and those who have assisted British operations within the country - are now at increased risk of persecution and violence.  

It is our view that the UK government, as an architect of the 20-year conflict that has led up to this point, has a specific responsibility to the Afghan people, to work with them to ensure they are safe and protected.  

We call on the UK government to:   

  • follow the example of Canada and work with international partners to open up safe, legal routes for refugees from Afghanistan to come to the UK
  • provide routes for family reunion and permanent settlement for Afghan nationals who are currently working and studying in the UK; and   
  • restore foreign aid spending to 0.7% of GNI, as this has a crucial role in supporting wider humanitarian work within Afghanistan and the region.

UCU was also concerned to learn that 35 Chevening scholars from Afghanistan due to commence their studies in the UK this Autumn were recently advised that they would have to defer for a year due to visa complications. This is unacceptable and the reported government U-turn is a welcome development. This needs to be formally confirmed with urgency and the government must now do everything necessary to support those scholars in travelling to the UK to commence their studies as intended. Honouring existing commitments should be a bare minimum and the government should also invest in wider opportunities for Afghan nationals to continue their studies in the UK.   
 
Finally, as a union for post-16 educators, UCU is particularly concerned about the impact of Taliban rule on access to education within Afghanistan. Protecting and promoting the rights of everyone, including women and girls, to access education is a global priority; working in partnership with the Afghan people to facilitate access to education should continue to be a central focus for the UK's foreign policy and aid spending.   

Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, said:

'The scenes of thousands fleeing their homes, trying to get to safety as the Taliban advance are devastating. 

'After enduring a 20 year conflict in which tens of thousands died, the Afghan people are now faced with the return of a regime which targets women, girls, those in the LGBT+ community and political activists and trade unionists. The prospect for these people and many more fleeing look bleak. 

'Our government has played a central role in the conflict that has blighted Afghanistan and in creating the chaos we see now. It therefore has a responsibility to help those in danger. That must mean the rapid setting up of a specific, legal route to the UK for refugees and for those who have relatives in the UK to be allowed to reunite. 

'As educators, we believe in the power of education as a fundamental human right, which we know is under threat once again in Afghanistan. The prime minister should ensure all existing commitments with Afghan students to study in the UK are honoured and opportunities for others expanded.' 

 

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