We have all been moved by the horrors unfolding in Afghanistan and the uncertainty of what it brings both in country and beyond. The failure of western powers to bring peace and stability to a nation ravaged by disaster is deeply depressing. The takeover by the Taliban has created great fear for many Afghans and in particular for women and girls, and religious and other minorities, who are most at risk of human rights abuses, retribution and persecution. If it was me and my family, I would do all I could to escape.
Understandably the news is focusing on those desperately trying to get on a plane out of Kabul as the doors begin to close. At a time when many western nations have become slightly ambivalent towards refugees it is heartening to see the outpouring of empathy, support and welcome being directed at those who have made it to the UK.
The constant ringing of calls into the World Jewish Relief office (yes we are back in!) from supporters asking how they can help is mind blowing. Synagogue clothing collections, campaigns and outpourings of help show our Community at its very best. As World Jewish Relief have come to realise in recent years however, successful refugee integration into Britain, particularly for women, is a long, slow and complex process and can leave many isolated. English language and employment support, as it was for Jewish refugees into Britain many years ago, in addition to basic material needs are critical.
While my heart is drawn to mobilising all we can to assist those arriving in the UK, my head recognises that by far the greatest level of need is in Afghanistan itself and in those nations shouldering the burden of vast numbers of Afghan refugees. There is no doubt that humanitarian access constraints are extremely high and we wouldn’t compromise on accountability standards and assurances that our assistance reaches those that require it. Nine years ago a close friend of mine working for the Red Cross was brutally murdered by the Taliban in Pakistan so the realities of delivering assistance, even through local partners is stark. But we will try and navigate this complex field and do what we can to assist those in greatest need.
As we become more attune to the fear and terror that the Taliban may bring to certain groups in Afghanistan, perhaps we will also begin to show greater empathy and understanding towards those that have fled for their lives from Afghanistan and elsewhere in recent years and have arrived to the UK through less safe and legitimate routes.