Written evidence submitted anonymously (AFG0007)

 

  1. What are the humanitarian and human rights implications of the IEA takeover? How can the UK support those at risk – particularly women and girls – both in the immediate and longer term? What steps is the Government taking to do this?

1.1.            The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, and it becomes even more precarious as winter approaches[1]. The UN estimates that half of the population-18 million people require humanitarian aid[2]. We urge the UK Government to:

1.1.1.            Urgently honour the G20 commitment to the ‘expansion and acceleration of as much humanitarian assistance as possible’[3] ahead of the coming winter, particularly to those most vulnerable. Winters are harsh in Afghanistan, with temperatures reaching as low as -12°c.

1.1.2.            Protect Afghan civilians, especially vulnerable groups including women and minority groups from human rights restrictions, intimidation and violence, leveraging all multilateral avenues to do so. Minority groups including ethnic and religious minorities have faced decades of  atrocities and assassinations and must be urgently protected. In the first half of 2021, the UN  documented record numbers of girls and women killed and injured, as well as record numbers of overall child  casualties. The UK Government should ensure any humanitarian response is locally-led, gender and conflict sensitive and does no harm. It is important that the role of women-led and women's rights organisations and women humanitarian staff in the humanitarian response is recognised, supported and protected. Without female staff, humanitarians cannot adequately support the needs of women and girls, including those related to protection, health and services for victims of  violence.

1.1.3.            Listen to and prioritise the needs and rights of Afghan women and girls in any action taken in response to the situation in Afghanistan, both nationally and internationally. This includes:

1.1.3.1.            Leading multilateral action and directing UN efforts to immediately set up a peacekeeping mission, which can broker and monitor the implementation of a ceasefire agreement,

1.1.3.2.            Support safehouses and gender based violence services for women and their families who are victims of threat and/or violence. Engage in humanitarian action and response that is locally informed, locally led, as well as gender and faith sensitive, including working with neighbouring countries to open borders to safe evacuations and aid.

1.1.3.3.            Promote and defend the right of women’s right to work, as well as women and girl’s access to education.

1.1.4.            Facilitate unimpeded humanitarian access and prioritise commitments to localisation. Promote safe passage and support to national and international NGO staff to support both immediate and long term humanitarian response. This includes:

1.1.4.1.            Greater clarity on the £286 million funding announced by the Government to support Afghanistan, prioritising not just the large international organisations and aid providers, but showing that the UK Government’s commitment extends to protecting the space for civil society and the strength of local national actors and NGOs. 

1.1.4.2.            Expedite Treasury guidance on the transfer of aid into Afghanistan, and guidance on operating within Afghanistan under the rule of IEA

1.1.4.3.            Ensure that ACBAR continues to have strong access to the Humanitarian Country Team and is included in senior level conversations and international decision making on the design and delivery of aid across the country.

1.1.5.            Ensure safe and legal routes for those facing imminent danger and their dependents to reach safety:

1.1.5.1.            Uphold the rights of internally displaced people (IDPs). Over the last few months the number of IDPs in Afghanistan has increased manifold, with many fleeing to Kabul and other urban centres due to the escalating threat of violence in rural areas. Women and girls who are displaced are disproportionately affected and are at higher risk and therefore should be urgently offered appropriate support.

1.1.5.2.            Support all steps to safeguard the international protection of the people of Afghanistan, and increase the number of safe and legal routes to safety. The UK Government should use their diplomatic influence and funding to encourage and support neighbouring states to keep their borders open and allow refugees and asylum seekers to flee the conflict without fear of refoulement, and to help ensure that these refugees are able to access adequate and appropriate humanitarian assistance safely. Pakistan and Iran in particular should be encouraged to keep their borders open and funded appropriately to enable them to respond to the scale and gravity of the crisis.

1.1.5.3.            Halt forced returns of Afghan asylum seekers and refugees (including those who have had their claims rejected) from the UK in line with the non-return advisory for Afghanistan[4] that the UN refugee agency-UNHCR issued on 16 August 202, and commit to review failed applications in light of the crisis, following the example set by other countries like Canada and Germany.

1.1.5.4.            Expand the scheme providing visas to the UK (ARAP) to include not only those Afghans who have worked directly for the UK Government but those who have worked through NGOs or contractors to support the UK aid and military programmes for so many years. The scheme should also include human rights defenders, journalists and others with a high profile who are at a high and imminent risk of threat to life. Furthermore, the UK must do everything in its power to protect Afghan women, including human rights defenders and civil society actors, who face grave threats from the IEA for advancing the rights of the Afghan people. Many of these women and their organisations were funded by the UK government and other international donors and encouraged to take visible leadership roles. The UK now has a moral responsibility to protect them in whichever ways are possible including offering humanitarian visas as a safe and legal route to asylum.

1.1.5.5.            Expedite the release of information pertaining to the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS).  The delay is causing increased trauma and exposure for those who are most at risk of persecution from the IEA.

1.1.5.6.            Ensure those who have been associated with faith based international humanitarian / development organisations are classified as vulnerable and/or classed under religious persecution in the selection criteria for UK the resettlement scheme (including Afghans from majority faith backgrounds). 

1.1.6.            Ensure timely and adequate humanitarian funding to support the rising humanitarian needs. We welcome the reversal of the cuts to the aid budget for Afghanistan, announced on 19 August[5]. However, we seek clarity on whether/how much of this extra funding announced  is 'new' in the sense of being additional to the overall aid budget. The UK Government should support the flexible reallocation of existing funding and programming based on urgent needs now, and provide flexible, direct, and rapid funding to frontline NGOs and national partners who have the  contextual knowledge, relationships and community acceptance to effectively meet urgent needs. The government should continue to support development programmes where possible, as diverting funds away from efforts to shore up the foundations of food security will only worsen the humanitarian situation in the long term. Early warning famine monitoring is needed as well as proactive steps for famine prevention.

1.1.7.            Swift approval of visas for at risk staff from Afghan NGOs and other civil society forums

1.1.8.            ensure sanctions and counterterrorism measures do not further impede the delivery of aid.

1.1.9.            Support the establishment of trusted information sources as, in many cases, uncertainty rumours and false Information can fuel panic and displacement. Ensuring that people have access to accurate information is essential to mitigating the humanitarian crisis.

 

 

  1. How should the UK approach any opposition or armed resistance to the IEA?

2.1.            As a permanent member of the UN Security Council with strong commitments to upholding human rights, the UK must  ensure respect for international humanitarian law and related legislation by state and non-state actors in  Afghanistan. This includes:

2.1.1.            Ensuring principled humanitarian access for international NGOs and national civil society.

2.1.2.            Supporting UN agencies and international NGOs to stay and deliver, including through humanitarian diplomacy and support to access negotiations. 

2.2.            It is vital that humanitarian operations in Afghanistan continue to be driven by humanitarian need alone and delivered in accordance with the humanitarian principles of humanity, independence, impartiality and neutrality. In the case of opposition or armed resistance to the IEA, the UK Government should support NGOs to continue delivering humanitarian assistance by obtaining assurances (either written or verbal) from all actors ensuring appropriate operational independence for NGOs.  Assurances should detail humanitarians’ ability to operate with independence so that all staff, both women  and men, across all ethnic groups, are able to carry out the full spectrum of humanitarian activities and maintain access to all people in need, in accordance with the UN OCHA Afghanistan Joint Operating Principles[6].

2.3.            In the event of opposition or armed resistance to the IEA, the UK Government and the international community should negotiate with the IEA and other parties involved in the resistance to ensure an environment where humanitarian responders can carry out their work without violence, threat or intimidation .

2.4.            Our partners in Afghanistan have repeatedly been asked by IEA officials to share information with them of the names and other details of people our partners are providing humanitarian relief to (beneficiary lists). This could pose serious protection risks for the recipients of humanitarian aid. The UK should ensure that they along with the international community call for the protection of civilians in all circumstances.

2.5.            Humanitarians should not be asked to pay levies or taxation on humanitarian services and goods due to donor contracts and counter terrorism laws. Unannounced and unwarranted searches of humanitarian facilities could impede upon humanitarian principles.Humanitarian actors are accountable to affected communities. In line with international standards of quality and accountability such as the SPHERE standards and Core Humanitarian Standards and Child Protection Minimum Standards,  they must consult with and enable the leadership of communities affected by humanitarian disasters on all decisions affecting them, while also respecting the confidentiality of personal information.  Both national and international humanitarian workers must be able to work safely and securely. They should never be threatened or harmed.

2.6.            Ensure that sanctions that the UK Government or others place on the IEA or other groups do not hamper humanitarian aid in Afghanistan. We call for a coordinated, all government response that prioritises the safety and needs of Afghans in the country.

2.7.            The UK should facilitate improvement of the global de-risking climate, ensuring greater clarity of humanitarian exemptions, on how to process humanitarian finance transfers to Afghanistan. We urge the UK treasury to urgently deliver clear guidelines to UK banks and other relevant stakeholders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 2021


[1] UNHCR, Afghanistan Emergency, https://www.unhcr.org/uk/afghanistan-emergency.html

[2] UNOCHA, Afghanistan, https://www.unocha.org/afghanistan

[3] G20, G20 Extraordinary Leaders’ Meeting on Afghanistan Chair’s Summary (October 2021) https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/ChairsSummary.pdf

[4] UNHCR, UNHCR position on returns to Afghanistan (August 2021) https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/611a4c5c4.pdf

[5] Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, UK doubles aid to Afghanistan (August 2021) https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-doubles-aid-to-afghanistan

[6] UN OCHA,  Joint Operating Principles (August 2021) https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/joint_operating_principles_for_afghanistan_eng_25082021.pdf