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Home / Law Talk with Rehana Popal – UK’s First Female Afghan Barrister

Law Talk with Rehana Popal – UK’s First Female Afghan Barrister

Written by Jasmine Shaikh – Volunteer at ACAA

The ACAA held a very successful law talk event on Friday evening. The primary focus was on giving listeners an insight into life in Afghanistan and the immigration struggles faced once they enter the UK. 

We had two outstanding guest speakers who attended the event; Ziagul Saljoqi who spoke of life as a woman under the Taliban and how it has improved in modern day Afghanistan; and Rehana Popal who spoke about the procedural struggles Afghan refugees and asylum seekers face when they enter the county, with a focus on unaccompanied minors.

The talk was attended by a range of people including Deputy Mayor Mukhesh Malhotra, law students, locals and PC Gary McGinn from the ‘Prevent’ department of the Metropolitan Police.

The event commenced with an in-depth introduction by Dr Nasimi about the history of the organisation, the work we do, and his journey to the UK.

Our first guest speaker Ziagul Saljoqi then spoke of life as a woman in Afghanistan. Ziagul is an Afghan refugee currently living in the UK,with her work focusing on educating people about the situation in her home county. Ziagul worked as a very successful engineer in the Ministry of Water and Power in Afghanistan. She said women played an imperative role in developing governmental services, and were valued for this work up until the Taliban regime. She then gave a vivid, horrifying description about the struggle that she and many other women faced in Afghanistan. Once the Taliban took over, women were forced to quit their jobs and stay at home – they had to comply with orders or they faced physical violence or even death. They had to move in silence.

During the Taliban regime, women were also deprived of healthcare which created a massive increase in maternal death rates. Afghanistan now has the second highest rate of maternal death. She also said that children were subject to such harsh restrictions and also faced punishment for non-compliance. For these reasons, Afghan women and children are sent to neighbouring countries, or they embark on a foot trail to Europe and Turkey hoping to escape the horrors. 

Ziagul passionately denounced the idea that the Taliban were acting according Islam. She said that they have digressed from anything close to Islam, depriving Afghans of both their childhood and adulthood. She stated that the future for women in Afghanistan is dark, but nevertheless she hopes for something better. 

Our second guest speaker was Rehana Popal, the UK’s first female afghan barrister. Rehana works in Human Rights, Immigration and Public Law, focusing mainly on Immigration Law.

She explained that from the moment asylum seekers or refugees enter the UK, they enter into a system that works against them. Currently, Afghanistan has the highest rate of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum or refuge in the UK. 

Minors travel for months on foot from Afghanistan to the UK though Europe. Upon entry, the legal tests that minors must satisfy are so strict and narrowly defined that basic requirements such as the age of a minor is disputed. In some cases, when a minor enters the UK they are given temporary leave until they reach the age of 17 and a half with the condition that they must return to Kabul upon reaching this age.

This causes great distress as minors become settled in the UK, and as such, the thought of having to go back to a country they escaped from is a horrifying thought. When the minors host family then decide to consult a solicitor on the matter, they are told that they cannot appeal because they should have done so within the time limits of when the decision was first made. A massive shortfall in the system is that they do not recognise that an unaccompanied minor did not have the mental capacity to think of appealing a decision that was made for them at the age of 14. In some cases, when children are sent back to Kabul, they eventually join the Taliban because of the thought that is better to join the oppressor than to be oppressed. 

Rehana further explained that because of these stringent conditions, many unaccompanied minors fall into ‘debt bondage’. They believe that someone in the UK can help them ‘get over’ and promise them a better life, however once they arrive, they become part of drugs gangs and the like from which they cannot escape.

These two speakers provided a wealth of insight to the attendees about the difficult conditions migrant face even after entering the UK.

There are organisations which are helping these individuals to understand the system and guide them through their processes, the ACAA being one of them. The talk ended with Jasmine, a Legal intern at the ACAA Legal Clinic explaining the role that the clinic plays and support they offer.

The evening was brought to a close with an open panel question and answer session and refreshments being offered. PC Gary asked whether the ACAA was doing anything to help unattended minors. Rabia answered by explaining that the ACAA have many systems and opportunities in place to help unattended minors integrate within society, such as family days out and providing mentors for minors. 

We would like to thank all our speakers for a highly successful event. We strive as an organisation to not only support refugees and migrants in their struggles, but also to be a platform whereby these challenges are discussed and brought to the attention of wider society, and as such, events like these are invaluable in providing a stronger insight into the community.

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