UK fails to protect Afghan women’s rights lawyer amid Taliban pursuit


In a disheartening turn of events, a brave women’s rights lawyer who played a pivotal role in prosecuting Taliban members finds herself trapped in Afghanistan, a mere two years after the UK committed to providing refuge for such individuals.

Currently in hiding with her husband and three young children, the lawyer voiced her anxiety to openDemocracy about the lurking threat of being apprehended by the Taliban.

Additionally, the plight of a man caring for his four nieces and nephews, abandoned by their parents who remain stuck in Afghanistan, was also brought to light. The stories underscore the UK’s commitment gap in its Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), which was inaugurated in January 2022.

Originally, the Home Office had promised to resettle 5,000 Afghans within the scheme’s first year. One of the scheme’s focal points was prioritizing the rescue of vulnerable Afghans, including women and girls facing danger, as well as those who supported UK endeavors in the nation or stood up for values like democracy, women’s rights, freedom of expression, and the rule of law.

Ironically, a mere 14 people have been resettled under this so-called “pathway”, as per the latest statistics released in March. One such individual, Naailah (not real name), who worked as a prosecutor at the Afghan Attorney General’s Office, remains a fugitive, fearing arrest due to her involvement in prosecuting numerous Taliban members for crimes ranging from corruption to violence against women and drug-related offenses.

Naailah disclosed that she had submitted a list of 16 colleagues, alongside two female judges, who were killed by the Taliban for undertaking similar work as hers. Despite this, the Home Office has refused to consider her case without her undertaking the perilous journey to Pakistan to provide her biometric data at the British High Commission.

Expressing profound disappointment with the British government, Naailah highlighted their prior shared commitment to uplift women’s welfare and rights in Afghanistan. She lamented being left unprotected while facing persecution and threats.

Lawyers assisting Naailah in the UK asserted her vital contribution to the UK’s strategic objectives, notably the eradication of corruption and the establishment of justice in Afghanistan. She also served as a defense lawyer, specializing in cases related to women’s rights, for almost a decade.

Throughout her career, she championed the cause, even facing off against Taliban members in court.

Naailah’s work is believed to be the reason she is now hunted by the Taliban, who have prohibited women from engaging in the judiciary or appearing solo in court. Her role in securing convictions against Taliban members who had committed heinous acts of violence against women further exacerbated her danger. She fled with her family after the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, and their home was later ransacked by the Taliban.

The Home Office’s apparent reluctance to extend protection under the ACRS scheme, despite acknowledging the vulnerability of human rights defenders and women in public spaces, has baffled observers. Naailah also applied for resettlement under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), a request that was dismissed despite the government’s assurance of discretion for those who indirectly collaborated.

Furthermore, the anguish is compounded for many Afghans who are separated from their families due to the chaos during the evacuation efforts. For instance, Rashid (not real name) has been caring for his four nieces and nephews for two years as their parents remain stranded in Afghanistan. The UK government had vowed to reunite evacuees with their kin left behind, but the lack of an effective route has left such promises unfulfilled.

Legal efforts, such as those led by the Afghan Pro Bono Initiative, are underway to facilitate family reunions, but the process is beset with complexity and sluggishness. As a result, those awaiting reunification endure emotional hardship, and the prolonged separation has taken a toll on Rashid’s nieces and nephews.

Rashid’s family, alongside countless others, face uncertain futures as they navigate the complexities of the UK’s immigration and support systems. As their stories highlight, the human cost of bureaucratic hurdles and unmet commitments is immeasurable.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.


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