Scotland ready to welcome Afghan refugees fleeing Taliban

Scotland stands ready do everything it can to support refugees from Afghanistan as the Taliban seizes control and the country sinks into chaos.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said Scotland is willing to accept refugees fleeing the country and has urged the UK government to step up in offering support.

Desperate scenes at Kabul airport have been broadcast showing people trying to leave the country as the Taliban swept into the capital unopposed and took control of the presidential palace. They fear a return to the brutality of the Taliban regime of the 1990s, which saw public executions and a ruthless crackdown on freedoms for women.

There have already been disturbing reports of women being told to give up their jobs in the first areas of Afghanistan to fall under the control of the Taliban in the current resurgence.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon: urged UK government to welcome refugees from Afghanistan

The First Minister posted on Twitter over the weekend: “As we did with Syrian refugees, @scotgov is willing to play our full part and do all we can to help those in peril as a result of the horrifying situation currently unfolding.”

She added: “I hope UK government does similar and offers as much refuge for vulnerable Afghans as possible.'

Scotland has a proud record of helping refugees fleeing violence to rebuild their lives in this country. Almost one fifth of the Syrian refugees who came to the UK as part of a special project have settled in Scotland.

Figures released in 2019 suggested 3,180 Syrian refugees settled in Scotland. Among the highest profile new Scots were 24 Syrian families who made their homes on the island of Bute.

The local community rallied round in support. Mohannad Helmi, who came to Bute with his wife and their two children, told the Guardian in 2017:  “We have been shown nothing but friendliness and affection since the day we arrived. It seems that everyone smiles at us when we go to the shops or go out for a walk.'

Although the UK government is responsible for granting asylum the Scottish government controls devolved matters, including access to essential services such as healthcare and education.

There is such a strong will in Scotland to support newcomers and make people feel welcome

The Scottish government website states: ‘Scotland has a long history of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers and recognises it is a human right to be able to seek asylum in another country.’ It adds: ‘Scotland’s New Scots approach is to support refugees and asylum seekers to integrate into our communities from day one of arrival.’

A report by the Scottish Refugee Council in 2013 estimated there were around 20,000 refugees, asylum seekers and ‘others of concern’ in Scotland at that time.

Scottish Refugee Council CEO Sabir Zazai said recently: “There is such a strong will in Scotland to support newcomers and make people feel welcome. Equally strong is the desire from refugee-led groups to make a contribution and use their skills and expertise to create flourishing, well integrated communities.’

Nicola Sturgeon has condemned what she describes as ‘the shameful abandoning’ of the people of Afghanistan

Nicola Sturgeon has condemned what she describes as ‘the shameful abandoning’ of the people of Afghanistan and has said the world ‘can’t just turn away’.

The response by the UK government to the crisis in Afghanistan has come under fire, with some news reports suggesting that senior military figures fear key allies there are being left behind because the Home Office is afraid of the message that offering asylum would send to refugees.

The Sunday National revealed the case of one former interpreter who sold his belongings after being told he was accepted into the UK’s 7000-place Afghan Relocation and Assistance Programme (Arap) for former support staff in May and was told to prepare to leave within four weeks.

Last week, the Home Office turned him away citing “security fears” and he now fears the Taliban will behead him.

By Richard Walker