The joint statement in solidarity with Afghan refugees, as reported in Cherwell and the Oxford Mail, is available in full below. If you wish to add your signature, please email advocacy@asylum-welcome.org.

Many organisations and individuals around Oxfordshire are deeply concerned about recent events in Afghanistan and the impact that these events are having on innocent people whose safety is now at risk. More than 50 concerned organisations and individuals came together at Asylum Welcome on 20th August to show solidarity with those fleeing violence and persecution, and to explore how we can best offer support to Afghan refugees arriving in the UK. Many more have offered support since. This statement reflects our shared concerns and commitments and our joint response to developments at the local and national levels.

At the national level:

  • We welcome the government’s timely commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees over the coming years as a positive initial step. However, we ask the government to conduct a full assessment of the situation to ensure the number of resettlement places reflects the number of people in life-threatening situations and to expedite arrivals even after troops have withdrawn from Kabul airport.
  • We ask the government to confirm that the new Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme will be in addition to and not replace existing commitments under the existing U.K. Resettlement Scheme. We ask the government to front-load delivery of its commitments, to ensure that support is provided for a reasonable duration, and to operate this new resettlement scheme in as transparent a way as possible.
  • We call upon the government to expand the criteria for refugee family reunion to ensure that, for Afghans currently resident in the UK, routes exist via which they may be joined by their close family members.
  • The government must rethink the Nationality and Borders Bill in light of the current crisis in Afghanistan. Under the proposed Bill, which is currently before Parliament, Afghan refugees who arrive in the UK in what the government calls “an indiscriminate way” (i.e. they have made their own way to our borders) will be treated as illegal and usually refused refugee status. We consider the Borders Bill unfit for purpose as it cannot guarantee the fundamental human right of refugees to seek and claim asylum. Asylum claims should be judged based on the claimant’s fear of persecution, not how they got here.
  • The government must freeze any planned repatriations, grant asylum to Afghan nationals with outstanding asylum claims and release Afghan nationals currently held in detention, given that deportations cannot be safely carried out.

What can be done locally?

  • County, city and district councils should take all possible steps to find housing for Afghan refugees and collaborate with the national scheme so that Oxfordshire can at the very least take its share of new arrivals.
  • We ask local councillors to represent the voices of their constituents who have strongly expressed their solidarity with refugees. We ask councillors to speak out against the Borders Bill.
  • We ask council officials to update local organisations as quickly as possible about the refugees being housed in Oxfordshire and to work closely with civil society to maximise what we can do together.
  • We call on Oxford’s two universities to help identify and make available possible accommodation and support, as was done so effectively to house homeless people during Covid.
  • We welcome the ongoing efforts of Anneliese Dodds and Layla Moran in support of refugees nationally and locally. We ask the MPs for Wantage, Banbury, Henley and Witney to engage on an individual basis with the concerns of their constituents who are speaking out in support of refugees in their constituencies.

Next steps:

  • We are all committed to work with our government, councils, local Afghan community organisations and the wider community to offer whatever support we can to refugees who arrive in Oxfordshire, and who are accommodated over both the short- and the longer-term.
  • Going forward, Asylum Welcome will play a coordinating role in information-sharing and cross-organisational collaboration. Offers of practical support can be made to office@asylum-welcome.org. We will pass these on to the most relevant partner or get back to you when we have more information.
  • Once we have greater clarity on how many people will be coming to Oxfordshire, when they will arrive and where they will stay, we will make more specific commitments and offer guidance for all organisations and the wider public to contribute in whichever way they can. We will share our plans with the public and seek donations in cash, kind, housing and hospitality to support new arrivals together.
  • In the meantime, we ask everyone to raise their voices to their MPs, councillors and in the media to express support for Oxfordshire welcoming refugees. Together, we can make Oxfordshire a more welcoming place for all refugees, including those fleeing persecution in Afghanistan.

Signed:

Mark Goldring, Director, Asylum Welcome

Alison Baxter, Sanctuary Hosting

Bridget Walker, Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network (QARN)

Cllr Dr Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini, Oxford City Councils Migrant Champion

Cllr Mark Lygo Oxford City & County Councillor

Cllr Imogen Thomas, Labour Councillor for Holywell Ward

Cllr Chris Jarvis, Councillor for St Mary’s Ward, leader of the Green Group on the City Council

Cllr Lucy Pegg, Councillor for Donnington

Cllr Sally Povolotsky, County Councillor for Hendreds & Harwell

Cllr Paula Dunne, Labour Councillor for Cowley Ward

Cllr Andrew Prosser, West Oxfordshire District Councillor, Witney Town Councillor (Green Party)

Cllr Rosa Bolger, Labour & Co-operative Councillor for Witney East

Julie Simmons, Oxford Stand Up to Racism

Mai Skovgaard, Goytom Fissehaye Rosie Johnson, Janet Phillips, Tarje Nissen-Meyer and Isabel Tate (Chair), KAMA Oxford

Charlbury Refugee Action Group (CRAG)

Emmy O’Shaughnessy, Director of Innovation and Acting CEO, Oxfordshire Youth

Jo Christie, President of Tea Birds Women’s Institute

Kate Ward, Co-chair, Chipping Norton Amnesty Group

Dr Aziz Barez, CACASS

Karima Brooke, Host with Sanctuary Hosting

Jessica Wallis, President of Student Action for Refugees (STAR) Oxford

Zahra Tekin, Director of Iranian Community Network (ICN)

Rob Hale, Director of Living Oxford

Helen Connor, Co-chair, Brightwell Supporting Refugees

Andrew Tyson and Louisa Daubney (Trustees), Sushila Dhall (Psychotherapist) and Lucy Nichol (Services Development and Delivery Manager), Refugee Resource

Sue Brockes-Smith, Co-founder and trustee, Anti Slavery Initiative Oxford (ASIOX)

Sam Jonkers, Regional Lead for Care4calais in the Thames Valley and Oxfordshire resident

Nabila Hafiz, Help the World Oxford

Rabyah Khan, Trustee, Mandala Theatre

Oxfordshire Momentum

Alyson Peberdy, Chair, Oxford Welcomes Refugees

Louise Chantal and Vanessa Lefrancois, Joint Director & CEO, Oxford Playhouse

Sue Smith and Judith Atkinson, Co-Clerks of Oxford Quaker Meeting

Simon Martin, Oxfordshire resident

Mike Bartlett, Oxfordshire resident

Emma Collison, Oxfordshire resident

Dr Caroline Lightowler, Oxfordshire resident

Charlotta Nuboer-Cope, Oxfordshire resident