Almost 400 lawyers and immigration professionals have partnered with one of the world’s largest law firms to form a new group to help those trying to flee Afghanistan, I can reveal.
The group, which has yet to be named before but operates as the Afghan Immigration Group, was founded by a group of British asylum lawyers with the aim of sharing information and working in cooperation to help as many people as possible left in danger since the West has withdrawn from Afghanistan and the Taliban have seized power.
In an exclusive interview with IBritish asylum lawyer Allan Briddock, one of the founders of the network, called “cynical” the government’s designation of its Afghan resettlement program “Operation Warm Welcome” and part of a ” public relations campaign ”due to the Home Secretary’s parallel decision to introduce new asylum laws that would further criminalize refugees fleeing to Britain in a boat or truck.
“I’m glad they do,” he said, referring to the ploy, “but it just makes you cry in your cornflakes because they’re so cynical, knowing the laws they’re trying to. introduce.”
Within 48 hours at the end of last month, Briddock and his co-founders mobilized individual lawyers from Britain, Europe and the United States, as well as law firms, charities and NGOs as governments rushed to save those most likely to be killed by Taliban forces – and failed to accomplish their mission.
As the crisis escalated, the new network partnered with DLA Piper – ranked the world’s leading business law firm with the third highest global reach – in an attempt to manage the volume of inquiries from those who remain.
With thousands of people the US and UK have been unable to evacuate, and with details of UK and other government resettlement programs continuing to emerge, the Afghan Immigration Group is providing assistance practical and legal to anyone eligible for one of these programs or who may apply for refugee status under existing asylum laws.
All of the lawyers in the group work pro bono.
“Everyone just wants to help people leave Afghanistan if they are at risk,” Briddock said.
“There are hundreds of lawyers and social workers who actively devote their time to helping Afghans escape and resettle.
One of the central tasks is the sharing of information through a Google group. “It’s absolutely vital because it changes from hour to hour,” said Briddock.
This includes “some really practical things about their client’s experience that can help others. Everything from the details of the immigration law to what is happening on the ground. For example, the [UK] the government says there should be safe roads through Uzbekistan, but no, in fact the word on the ground is that the Uzbeks don’t let any Afghans in.
The volume of inquiries to individuals and group organizations quickly became overwhelming.
“There are thousands of queries, so they set up a triage system where DLA Piper takes the emails and sorts them,” Briddock said.
“We gave them some basic training on some of the resettlement programs so that they could answer some of these questions themselves and then help people fill out forms.
The most complex cases, DLA Piper will forward to the group’s immigration law specialists. But even asking for help poses practical problems for those trying to escape, Briddock said.
“One of the problems is that the foreign ministry’s hotline in Afghanistan was a toll-free number, an international number, so people couldn’t call it because their phones were cut off,” he said. he declares.
“It was more or less impossible to pass and if you were successful you had to wait a long time. People couldn’t call her for very long because they had a pay phone or they had limits. “
Besides logistical and legal barriers, financial problems have beset many people in the country since its currency fell, its banks have closed and thousands of people have lost their jobs.
“We have seen a number of requests from people saying that we have family stranded but they don’t have the money to take a flight, so people [in the group] direct them to various organizations that may be able to help them, ”he said.
The UK government “needs to provide practical assistance to people responding to the program to actually get to the UK,” Briddock said, “but not in a unique way” due to the special needs of certain groups. .
Nick Herbert, the UK’s special envoy for LGBT rights, said last week that LGBT people would be eligible for the resettlement program for 5,000 Afghans initially and 20,000 longer term. But Dominic Raab, the foreign minister, said the government “engages with the Taliban” in efforts to save people, prompting Briddock to spot an immediate problem given the death penalty declared by the Taliban for homosexuality.
“I don’t see how it could work,” he said. “LGBT people are probably at the top of the list of people the Taliban would chop off their heads. It seems to me that these kinds of groups like LGBT people need proper consular assistance to leave the country, go to a neighboring country and get visas to go to the UK.
Last week an Afghan homosexual said I that the Taliban murdered her boyfriend and dismembered his body the day they overthrew Kabul.
Priti Patel’s new Nationality and Boundaries Bill, which is making its way into the Commons, will increase the sentence for those who “attempt to enter the UK illegally” from six months’ imprisonment to four years. Anyone without permission to enter before arriving on British shores could be detained and deported. The plight of Afghans, Briddock said, reveals the flaws in this approach.
“People have to do desperate things in desperate times,” he said. “If this [the Taliban takeover] had not happened to the extent that it did, with the world’s attention, then anyone who left Afghanistan on an irregular route and went to the UK would be considered a liar, one would say to him: “you are not a refugee because you did not apply to come to the UK by a regular route”. Especially if they ran into a small boat.
Briddock urged the public to write to MPs asking for more help from those at risk in Afghanistan, specifically citing the persecution of women, LGBT people and other groups at risk. “It makes a difference,” he said. In the meantime, his network of experts will do everything possible to use the law to the fullest, he said. “People’s lives can be saved.
A spokesperson for the Interior Ministry said:
“The government is proud of the Afghan Citizen Resettlement Program which will resettle up to 20,000 vulnerable people. It is one of the most generous programs in UK history.
“We have evacuated over 15,000 people from Afghanistan and are now working at a steady pace to put in place this tailored program to protect identified Afghan citizens most at risk, using the experience of the People Resettlement Program. vulnerable, global leader and successful.
“We will continue to do all we can to support the British nationals and the Afghans who have supported us, and to put pressure on the Taliban to allow safe passage.”