Mental health awareness week 2019: The prevalence in refugees and asylum seekers
Written by Gunita Cheema, Volunteer at ACAA…
Written by Gunita Cheema, Volunteer at ACAA
The annual UK Parliament Week saw a number of organisations explore what Parliament means to their community. The Afghanistan and Central Asian Association were pleased to hold their conference highlighting debates about the future of Afghanistan – with a particular focus on the impact to the citizens of Afghanistan. We want to give a special thanks to our Trustee Matthew Durkin, who chaired the event, and Ruth Cadbury MP who gave the opening remarks.
Dr Nasimi introduced the conference with an overview of the integration challenges faced by refugees upon arrival into the UK. This was followed by a two-panel discussion on “The Situation in Afghanistan: Politics, Security and Human Rights” and “The Situation in the UK: Obstacles and Challenges to Integration Faced by Afghan Refugees”.
The first speaker, Emma Graham Harrison, gave an insightful overview of the situation in Afghanistan from a journalistic perspective. As a writer for The Guardian who lived in Afghanistan for 5 years, she described how when she first came to Afghanistan, the government were continuously dishonest about the situation with false claims that the Taliban were being successfully destroyed. While she accepts the demand for western engagement, she vehemently stressed the need for this to be on Afghan terms. She also discussed elections and a “tragic security situation” which arose from the previous Parliamentary election. The October 2018 election became infamous as being the most violent in Afghan history and along with voter fraud and corruption Emma argued that the upcoming Presidential debate is likely to be met with similar circumstances. She concluded that Afghanistan is still facing a highly difficult security situation.
Naveed Noormal, First Secretary at the Embassy of Afghanistan, highlighted the commitment by the Afghan government to refugees and promoting human rights. He stressed that Afghanistan has made huge progress in the promotion and protection of human rights. Significantly, Afghanistan was one of the first Islamic Countries to join the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The implementation of an independent human rights commission further developed the promotion of human rights. Naveed highlighted how refugees have been used as a political tool and recommended that host nations consider refugees as potential for the nation, not a threat.
Harun Najafizada from Iran International discussed key two questions: what is going wrong in Afghanistan and what can be done? Afghanistan geographic location means becoming a Western ally is not an easy job. These problems are exacerbated by the fact that the central government in Afghanistan is too centralised and in the hands of only one man. As a result, Harun reiterated Emma’s debate that the process of the next election will be deeply flawed.
Our first speaker of the second panel, Jamie Bell, gave a legal insight into the situation facing refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. They are often left out of the conversation to dictate the laws and policies that directly affect them. It is up to the lawyers representing them to ensure the protection of their human rights. A significant part of this is challenging UK policy especially regarding detention centres and chartered flights home. The ‘hostile environment’ that has dictated UK policy toward migrants and refugees has undoubtedly resulted in the rights of refugees being undermined. Forcibly returning asylum seekers back to Afghanistan has led many clients to ask, “how can the UK say that Kabul is safe?”. Overall, Jamie gave a much-needed overview of the way in which the UK government has repeatedly ignored the suffering of refugees.
The panel moved to Dr. Ayesha Ahmad from St. George’s University of London who discussed gender-based violence and mental health issues faced by Afghan refugees. What was surprising to learn was how little academic focus there was on the mental health of those who have fled Afghanistan. Ayesha emphasised the way in which war effects each individual differently, and this is not represented in academic literature. In the UK, the Home Office often reduces refugees to only their experiences as a victim. As a result, there is a ‘discourse of disbelief’ surrounding refugees who come to the UK in which that have to continuously look for evidence in cases for Asylum.
Finally, Madeline Abbas from University of Manchester discussed Islamophobia in the current political context. Following the refugee crisis, there has been a rising amount of Islamophobia cases, further fuelled by the Brexit referendum in racial sensationalism was used during the campaign. Madeline emphasised the role of grassroots charities like ACAA. They are able to bridge policy debates between policy-makers and refugees to bring them into the political field. Importantly, charities are able to provide safe spaces for refugees who are often marginalised upon arrival in the UK.
Overall, the two-panel discussion provided a much-needed debate on the issues surrounding Afghans living in Afghanistan or abroad. Largely, conversations have tended to focus only on the political situation which has ultimately ignored the very people who are impacted. Therefore, this event was unique and the issues raised were important to understand how Afghanistan should to move forward to protect the citizens and to establish peace.