UK human rights lawyer still receives ‘terrible’ messages from trapped Afghan women

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A British human rights lawyer has described how she still receives “the most tragic, terrible text messages” from women trapped in Afghanistan.

The country fell to the Taliban almost two years ago, at which time hundreds of thousands of people attempted to flee.

Baroness Helena Kennedy KC helped 508 people escape, including 103 women threatened by the Taliban and who were on the group’s “kill list,” but many more were unable to leave.

Kennedy said the British government’s “dog whistle politics” on immigration had subsequently made it impossible to help people reach the UK from Afghanistan safely.

“It was possible then, then of course it was not possible anymore,” she told Metro newspaper. “I have still got women sending me the most tragic, terrible text messages and phoning me at all hours, saying ‘please help me, I am hiding in my basement, I didn’t get on your planes in 2021 because my mother was dying, I couldn’t leave at the time, but now they are after me,’ but all I can say is, ‘I’m sorry, they don’t provide visas to Britain from Afghanistan, you have to go to another country, Pakistan is the nearest, you have to get your kids across that border’.”

Kennedy launched an appeal to help legal professionals, human rights activists and their relatives flee Afghanistan as the country fell to the Taliban.

But she criticized the lack of legal routes for refugees into the UK, which she said had forced many to illegally cross the English Channel via small boats run by smugglers.

“Sometimes they are Afghanis who have worked for us … sometimes they are Afghanis of a particular minority called the Hazara, who get slaughtered as soon as the Taliban look at them,” she added.

Kennedy said recent legislation brought forward by the British government to “crack down” on illegal immigration was “pretty disgusting” and a “full-frontal dismissal” of the rule of law.

“I am a lawyer, and I believe in the rule of law,” she added. “I am afraid that the Home Office in this is prepared to break international law on the (UN) Refugee Convention, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, because they are prepared to deport pregnant women.

“One of the fundamentals in Scots law and English law is the right to due process, that before you lose any of your rights that you should have the opportunity of putting your case.

“These people are not being allowed to put their own case as to why they might be entitled to asylum or refugee status here.”

She added: “It is being done because this is a government running out of policy and running out of road. You do have to have sensible policies around immigration and what we need in terms of immigration.”

A Home Office spokesperson told Metro: “Between 2015 and March 2023, we have offered a place to over half a million men, women and children seeking safety.

“Supporting the resettlement of eligible Afghans remains a top priority. We have so far welcomed over 9,113 arrivals under Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, and we continue to work with the UNHCR, likeminded partners and countries neighbouring Afghanistan to identify at-risk people for resettlement in the UK.

“No one, however, should be risking their lives by crossing the Channel or taking dangerous and illegal routes to reach the UK.

“People should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach — that is the fastest route to safety.”

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