Imagine what it would be like to take the agonising decision to leave your home country in a matter of hours, leaving friends and family behind, only then to arrive in a country far away, with absolutely nothing?
That is what thousands of people have experienced in the past few weeks as the Taliban took power in Aghanistan, with many — and particularly women and girls and the LGBTQ+ community — fearing for their rights, freedoms, and lives.
The US and UK withdrawal and ensuing evacuation process faced heavy criticism because of how many people were left behind, with some Afghans who worked for the British army or at the embassy having their applications turned down. Estimates vary, but some UK MPs have said up to 7,000 eligible people may have been left behind — the government’s defence department says it’s between 800 and 1,100.
In the end, about 15,000 people were evacuated to Britain, including around 5,000 British nationals as well as 8,000 Afghans and their children.
The government has said a further 20,000 Afghan refugees will be granted asylum over the next five years, with the number capped to no more than 5,000 arriving before the end of 2021.
Those figures have been criticised for being too low, with Canada for example resettling 20,000 refugees this year, while the number is equivalent to the number of refugees who have come to Britain from Syria — a country with half Afghanistan’s population. What's more, the five-year time scale will mean many people being forced to wait in refugee camps.
For those who have been able to flee, settling in the UK so far has not been easy. Charities have warned a majority of refugees face months living in hotel rooms due to a lack of housing available. Meanwhile, after leaving with no time to spare, thousands of families arrived with only the clothes they wore when they boarded the plane, and many will likely suffer from PTSD, experts warn.
The Refugee Council, a leading refugee assistance nonprofit in Britain, said in a press statement on Sept. 8 that new arrivals are facing a “number of challenges” —including a lack of information about what is happening to them, a lack of basic essentials such as medicines, period products, and other toiletries, no toys or crafts for children, and no access to a phone to contact relatives.
That’s where the public, nonprofits, and community networks have stepped in to help amid a welcome programme that has suffered, according to some local councillors, from “a lack of coordination” from central government.
Here are some of the ways anyone in the UK can support those groups, through volunteering, donations, or funding.
Donate to National Appeals
The Afghan and Central Asian Association is a network that has run employment workshops, English language classes, and women’s support groups for Afghans in Britain since 1999. The group is also developing two citizen’s advice centres based in Afghanistan.
They are currently running an emergency fundraiser to support their volunteers who it says are providing round-the-clock assistance to help new refugees settle, and need resources and help to buy basic supplies.
Another fundraiser is being run by Refugee Action, a major national refugee charity that sent staff and volunteers to airports to provide food and medical attention to newly arrived Afghan refugees. They are now raising £215,000 to continue their support in the coming weeks.
Find Local Call-Outs for Help
Specific needs will vary across the country, so keep your eyes peeled for call-outs from local councils on social media or in local newspapers.
You can use the government’s “help refugees” website to find out targeted ways you can help, meanwhile ITV has listed the local councils that are pledging to accommodate Afghan refugees.
If you live in London, there are multiple community groups and charities that work to support newly arrived refugees in each borough. London Plus, a charity that supports nonprofits in the capital, is creating a handy running list on Twitter and on their website of food banks, mental health services, clothing collections, and other services for Afghan refugees.
🚨 Amidst the crisis in Afghanistan, this will be an ongoing thread of organisations and resources that are helping Afghans in London. 🚨— London Plus (@londonplus18) August 16, 2021
👇We'll be updating this with new information on support in London:#Afghanistan#CivilSociety#AfghanistanWomenAndGirls
They include Paiwand, a refugee services charity based in north-west London, Action for Refugees Lewisham in south-east London, and Hopscotch, a women’s centre in Camden, north London, currently raising funds to provide targeted support to Afghan women and children.
Donate Toys and Children’s Clothes
In Walsall, 28-year-old Lucie Dennis runs a local children’s charity called Help to Make Tummies Full. When she found out that 48 Afghan children would be settling in the area, she leapt into action.
Her appeal for children’s clothes, toys, books, and baby soap led to dozens of donations arriving at her door, the BBC reported. Her small nonprofit has been able to use the donations for emergency packages to deliver to each of the refugee children arriving.
“The community has been just incredible," she said. "My house is covered in jigsaws, baby shampoo... It's really refreshing, there is so much misery, but people want to help.”
"I can't bear the thought of children flying across the world with nothing, we're so blessed to be where we are,” she added.
Other larger organisations have made similar call-outs including Afghan Welcome, which is coordinating a response from multiple charities and which has a list of children’s items needed that it will distribute. Elsewhere, Baby Basics is another national charity providing essentials to families.
Bridge 2 Liverpool, a small charity serving asylum seekers and refugees in Liverpool, is one of the many organisations that's been coordinating donations of essential items in the past few weeks.
They have collected hundreds of items which their staff are delivering to hotels where new refugees are staying, the team has said. They also run a “shop” which refugees can visit to see what they need and receive donations.
However, on their Twitter account, Bridge 2 Liverpool have warned they don’t have capacity to sort through unwashed clothing and so have asked for completely clean and “like new” clothing. The group has also said that toiletries are still “very much needed.”
We are completely overwhelmed at the moment and are not taking clothes donations unless they are sorted, new or clean like new (completely unstained) and labelled clearly. We do not have the space or the staff. Last week staff were taking donated clothes home to wash themselves -— Bridge2 Liverpool 🧡 (@Bridge2Lpool) September 7, 2021
Toiletries and hygiene products, which can only be donated unused, are just as critical as clothes and food, but sometimes get forgotten. Check out Beauty Banks, The Hygiene Bank, and Bloody Good Period, which all distribute period products and essential hygiene items at food banks and other centres all over the country.
Do Some Second-Hand Clothes Shopping
Choose Love, the refugee charity initially set up to respond to the refugee crisis in Calais in 2015, has set up an emergency appeal for Afghan refugees.
Working in collaboration with the second-hand clothing site Thrift, if you buy second-hand clothes from the Choose Love “Second Life” store on Thrift, all funds raised will go to support that appeal.
The appeal is raising £400,000 for projects “providing vital aid and services” to Afghan people, including “clothes, shelter, support for children, and groups protecting women and children’s rights.”
Offer a Spare Room, If You Have One
The organisation Refugee Home connects people who have a spare room in their home with refugees and asylum seekers who need somewhere to stay. They have so far placed almost 2,500 guests with new homes.
It’s a route a few famous faces have taken to show their support for refugees too, including George Clooney in the US, while Match of the Day host Gary Lineker offered a room in his Surrey home through the Refugee Home charity last year.
They are now taking applications for hosts for Afghan refugees and say they have had hundreds of offers. They have asked that only people living in cities apply.
Support Women’s Rights Organisations
The rights of women and girls are seriously at risk under the Taliban. Afghan politician Fawzia Koofi, one of the few women involved in peace negotiations, has said that despite assurances from the Taliban leadership, many simply do not feel safe given their record on gender inequality. She warned in an interview in August that she was already hearing reports of women being forced to marry Taliban fighters.
Since the takeover, it’s been reported that women are quitting their jobs and deleting their social media accounts, out of fear of persecution for working.
Two UK-based organisations Women for Refugee Women and Refugee Women Connect are groups advocating for the rights and for support for women refugees coming from Afghanistan.
Both organisations are also advocating against the UK government’s Nationality and Borders Bill, which seeks to punish refugees arriving through “irregular routes”, for example, on boats crossing the English Channel, rather than through a resettlement programme.
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