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Refugees arriving via irregular routes to the UK should not be locked up, rights group says

A group of around 40 migrants arrive via the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) on Dungeness beach on 4 August 2021 in Dungeness, [England. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]
A group of around 40 migrants arrive via the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) on Dungeness beach on 4 August 2021 in Dungeness, [England. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]

The CEO of the Scottish Refugee Council has said that refugees arriving in the UK using irregular routes should not be criminalised, locked up, or sent back to Afghanistan.

Sabir Zazai's comments come as the UK government has pledged to take 20,000 Afghan refugees in a new resettlement scheme. However, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel at the same time warned Afghans arriving on small boats across the Channel that they will not be considered an exception following a draft bill that proposes only giving temporary refugee status to refugees arriving "illegally".

Last year, 8,410 refugees arrived on the southeast coast of England after making the crossing from France. In the first six months of this year, 8,159 people had already made the crossing.

Under the new legislation the government is proposing to transfer asylum seekers out of the country whilst their applications are processed and speeding up appeals and judicial processes to remove people whose claims have been rejected.

Zazai said of the controversial Nationality and Borders bill: "Sadly the new bill talks about putting people away or locking them away from communities and I think that's another huge concern because integration happens within communities, it doesn't happen in barracks, in detention centres or in remote islands."

READ: UK's pledge to resettle 20,000 Afghans is not enough, critics say

The Herald reports that Zazai has said that the resettlement scheme should not disadvantage people arriving on our shores.

"Maybe a woman with a child arrives through the resettlement programme and they get all the right support and everything … but if that same woman arrived with a child from Afghanistan in Dover, we don't want her to end up with a criminal record or to end up in detention or prison," he said.

"Fast forward a few weeks or months and certainly next year many attempting dangerous sea crossing will be Afghans because over three million people are internally displaced, and this will include unaccompanied children and families."

Zazai himself arrived in the UK in a lorry in December 1999 in Dover. "The local communities in the UK invested in me, in my integration, which I'm extremely grateful for," he said.

Ministers and charities have warned of another refugee crisis as thousands of people attempt to leave Afghanistan and that many more lives will be lost at sea.

Steve Valdez-Symonds of Amnesty International is among the rights advocates who have criticised the scheme as inadequate, commenting that the resettlement programme is "unforgivably slow" and asked if Afghan asylum seekers will be "criminalised and vilified."

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