People fighting for the future of life on our planet should be celebrated - but climate activists in Afghanistan are at huge risk.  

Since the Taliban took over, at least eight civil society activists and human rights defenders have been assassinated, with many more forced into hiding, or fleeing the country.  

The UK should be standing in solidarity with these activists - and with every person who is at risk of persecution by the Taliban. Last summer, in the midst of the crisis, the Government promised a new refugee resettlement programme to bring Afghans to the UK. But very little progress has been made.  

There will be no way for refugees to apply to the scheme - instead people will have to hope to be hand-picked by a UK Government partner organisation. So far, details of who will be eligible are vague – and environmental activists have been completely forgotten.

Along with 23 partner organisations, we have written to the Minister responsible for the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, asking him to make sure that everyone who needs the scheme can access it, including people whose lives are at risk because they fought for our planet's future. 

4 April 2022

Dear Lord Harrington,

We the undersigned write to express our concern for the safety of environmental activists in Afghanistan, and ask that the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme be broadened and expedited in the interests of protecting them.  

Environmental activists in Afghanistan are under grave threat. Since the takeover of the country by Taliban forces in August 2021, activists and human rights defenders across Afghanistan have gone into hiding in fear for their lives after facing threats. Tragically, some of their worst fears have been realised, with reports of targeted assassinations of activists. The UN has documented the killings of at least 8 civil society activists since the Taliban takeover, and beatings and threats targeting many more.

Environmental activists across Afghanistan are, like other activists in the country, under grave threat, and many have fled or remain in hiding. Afghan climate activists have faced the political reality of a country torn by droughts, wars and oppressive regimes, and have been able in this context to raise awareness and take action about climate issues. Environmental activists now face persecution because of perceived links to groups to which the Taliban is opposed, and due to their links to other civil society groups. At the time of writing, over 150 environmental activists remain in hiding, in fear for their lives.

Further, the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is caused not just by fiscal and political issues, but also by environmental problems. As such, supporting environmental activists should be a key priority.

In recognition of the situation unfolding in Afghanistan, and of the UK’s duties as an international player, a new Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme was announced in September 2021. However, we are concerned that problems with the scope and implementation of this scheme mean that environmental activists – as well as many others in at-risk groups – risk exclusion from the scheme.

When the resettlement pathway officially opened in January 2022, it emerged that there is no process by which individuals at risk can apply to be included on the scheme. Instead, individuals at risk will have to hope to be identified by the UK’s partners in the field. This raises the risk of seriously disadvantaging people who are at real risk, but who do not fall under strict arbitrary criteria or are unable to reach locations where they may be identified.

Further, individuals who were evacuated under Operation Pitting and are now already in the UK will be counted towards the UK’s resettlement targets under the ACRS. This means that the first year’s resettlement quota will likely be filled solely by people who have already reached safety in the UK – despite the fact that activists, members of minority groups, LGBTQ+ people and others remain at risk, in fear for their lives, now.

Similarly, in the first year the pathway for “those at risk who supported the UK and international community effort in Afghanistan” will be open only to individuals who worked as contractors for the British Council and GardaWorld, and Chevening alumni. It is our belief that these criteria must be immediately expanded so that activists, including environmental activists, can be offered a route to safety now.

We are concerned by the lack of clarity in the ACRS eligibility guidelines published as yet. It is our conviction that civil society activists must be included in the eligibility criteria, with an explicit reference to those at risk due to their environmental activism.

We appreciate the challenges involved in launching a large-scale resettlement pathway and rolling it out within the appropriate timeframe. Like your department, we are anxious to ensure that the scheme functions effectively and offers sanctuary to those who need it. However, we are concerned that the limited scope of the scheme, the overall number of places on offer, the lack of clarity around eligibility and the choice to operate on a referral-only basis means that the scheme will leave people at risk.

We very much welcome the opportunity to open dialogue with your Department, in hopes of ensuring that the ACRS works for everyone and offers sanctuary in the UK to those who need it, in line with both our obligations under international law and our moral duty to support those at risk due to their efforts working towards a better and safer world for us all.

Yours sincerely,

Justine Seligson, Volunteer Coordinator, Afghanistan and Central Asian Association

Afghans Beyond Borders                       

Mark Goldring, Director, Asylum Welcome

Lilian Geijsen, Director, Ben and Jerry's Europe

Claire James, Campaigns Coordinator, Campaign Against Climate Change

Sian Summer-Rees, Chief Officer, City of Sanctuary UK

Caroline Pomeroy, Director, Climate Stewards

Rabbis Wittenberg and Berger, EcoSynagogue            

Shanon Shah, Director, Faith for the Climate

Fridays for Future                       

Jamie Peters, Interim Director of Campaigns, Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Gisela Renolds, Executive Director, Global Link in Lancaster

Naomi Webb, Executive Director, Good Chance Theatre

Rosie Rogers, Oil and gas team leader, Greenpeace

Julia Rampen, Media Director, iMix

Dr Edie Friedman, Executive Director, Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE)

Satbir Singh, Chief Executive, The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants

Nazek Ramadan, Director, Migrant Voice

Zrinka Bralo, CEO, Migrants Organise

Platform London                         

Leo Murray, Co-Director, Possible

William Gomes, Director, The William Gomes Podcast

UK Youth Climate Coalition                  

Kate Metcalf, Co-Director, Women's Environmental Network

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