There is no 'right' type of refugee

The apparent willingness of some countries to help vulnerable Afghans does not hide the fact that most refugees are still neglected

A new investigation by Amnesty International, You’re Going to your Death, focuses on the abuse of 66 Syrians, 13 of whom are children. Their story stands out because they were former refugees who had returned to their homeland, most believing it was safe. Some were forced by host countries who assumed the same.

On a military level, pockets of the country are stable. But many are not free from regime abuse.

The victims were returning from across the Middle East and Europe, countries where for years public opinion and government rhetoric has often been hostile towards refugees.

Today, the situation seems no different. Migrant and refugee crossings over the English Channel reached record levels on Monday, at more than 1,000 people. The UK’s Home Secretary is now threatening to withhold millions promised to France if it does not stop more of these illegal journeys. It is the latest development in an ongoing diplomatic rift between two allies that is being fuelled by the crisis.

In Turkey, a country that for years has hosted millions of migrants and refugees fleeing instability in the Middle East and beyond, authorities are in the middle of an immigration crackdown. Last month, a raid in the eastern province of Van, an area that has seen a sharp rise in migrants fleeing Afghanistan's current crisis, 115 people, mostly Afghans, were detained in just two apartments.

With each new wave, rhetoric seems to centre less on the legal responsibilities of safe countries and more on political anger. But international criminal gangs who organise illegal journeys, or the occasional terrorist who enters a country under the guise of being a refugee, while being important matters, are not the core issue of the migration crisis. It is, instead, the safety of vulnerable people.

There is a slim chance, however, that the situation in Afghanistan could be the moment public opinion starts to view helping refugees and migrants as more of a moral issue, not a political one. The West's tardiness, sometimes failure, in resettling Afghans who worked with Nato forces and those most endangered by a return to Taliban rule, notably rights activists, particularly female ones, saw intense criticism from politicians, media outlets and the public. Boris Johnson, the UK's Prime Minister, has now announced that the country will house an extra 20,000 Afghans currently stranded in their homeland, in addition to the 15,000 that have already been extracted from Kabul.

After last month's stream of images from the capital’s airport of mothers passing babies to Nato troops, young men falling to their deaths from airplane landing gear in an attempt to flee and a suicide bombing that, once again, saw Afghan civilians dying, perhaps it is becoming more difficult for people to draw up the moral and political drawbridge.

Everyone deserves safety and a home in which they can fulfil their potential, not just those who have proved their loyalty on the battlefield. There is no "right" type of refugee. Revisiting global moral responsibilities after years of politics will hopefully stop yet more preventable tragedies, such as the one detailed in Amnesty International's new report.

Published: September 8th 2021, 3:00 AM