Taliban women
Victor J. Blue/The New York Times

Zaghari-Ratcliffe calls on Rishi Sunak to give special asylum status to women from Afghanistan

A group of British campaigners and activists, joined by the former members of the Afghan parliament, Fawzia Koofi and former minister of women’s affair, Hasina Safi, have called on the British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, to follow Germany, Sweden and Denmark’s lead on granting asylum to women fleeing from the Taliban. 

In a letter to the British prime minister, seen by the Times newspaper and signed by 58 people, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Justine Roberts (founder and CEO of Mumsnet, a parenting forum), the campaigners outline the dire state of women and girls’ rights in Afghanistan under the Taliban. 

In February, Human Rights Watch called on EU member states to offer protection to women from Afghanistan based on gender, following Denmark and Sweden’s change of policy, which Finland also followed.

The British government has been harshly criticised for not meeting its promise on resettling 20,000 people from Afghanistan. 

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According to the British Home Office, the UK only granted asylum to 2,621 women in 2022 and 4,122 men, which the campaigners said was “gender bias” the scheme. 

Zehra Zaidi, Co-Founder of Action for Afghanistan, said: “The time for strongly worded tweets and statements of condemnation is over. Eighteen months since the Taliban came to power, the situation facing Afghan women and girls continues its descent into horror.

“If our asylum system is to be deemed of any value, it must surely be able to help women facing gender apartheid and save those whilst we can still reach them.”

The Home Office told the Times that “It is completely wrong to suggest we will not be supporting women and children through the ACRS (Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme). Since August 2021, this government has brought thousands of Afghan women and girls to safety the UK — including female judges, women’s rights activists and a girl’s football team.

“Supporting the resettlement of eligible Afghans remains a top priority. We have so far welcomed over 7,600 arrivals under ACRS and we continue to work with the UNHCR to identify at-risk people, including women and girls, for resettlement in the UK.”

Fawzia Koofi said: “Afghan women are not only running out of hope, they are also running out of time. Now is the time to stand firm on fundamental human rights and take action.”

The campaigners said that they welcome the British government’s interest in supporting the convening of international conference, proposed by the UN and the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation to address the situation for women and girls in Afghanistan.