Militarism examinedDeaths in the 'War on Terror'

Almost three-quarters of asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Iraq rejected by British government, study shows

The UK Home Office has rejected thousands of applications from Afghans and Iraqis over a decade of fleeing war, a review of British government asylum data has revealed.

72% of asylum applications from Iraqi and Afghan nationals have been rejected by the Home Office in the last decade, according to analysis by AOAV. This comes despite the two countries, aside from Syria, suffering the highest levels of civilian casualties from explosive weapons in the last decade, and both countries having been subject to British military interventions. 

The data showed that people from Iraq and Afghanistan were the fifth and sixth highest nationality groups to apply for asylum protections in the UK, according to Home Office data between 2011 and 2020.

Over the last ten years, the Home Office refused 77% of the 16,706 asylum claims made by Iraqis. This amounts to 12,844 rejected applications from people living in a country where at least 56,316 civilians have been killed or injured by explosive weapons over the same ten years.

In addition, 66% (9,711) of Afghans applying for asylum in the UK were rejected between 2011 and 2020. In Afghanistan, 28,424 civilians have been killed or injured by explosive weapons within that period of time.

Both countries fall within AOAV’s top three worst-affected countries in terms of civilian casualties of explosive weapon use. 

The UK has long been said to be one of the worst destinations for people from countries embroiled in the global War on Terror seeking asylum in western Europe. But such a recalcitrance to process asylum seekers seems to be of special concern in countries where Britain has recently maintained a significant on-the-ground military presence. Namely, Afghanistan and Iraq. 

The UK’s responsibilities examined

In September 2021, AOAV published a report on UK Ministry of Defence payouts for civilians killed in Afghanistan during the British combat mission in that country. The investigation found that British forces paid compensation for the deaths of at least 289 civilians in Afghanistan, including as many as 86 children, during their combat mission. 

In addition, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan data records 102,555 civilians killed and injured in the conflict from 2009-2020. Whilst a decade of data gathered by AOAV’s Explosive Violence Monitoring Project found that 58% of casualties from explosive weapon use in Afghanistan were civilians (2011-2020). 

In the wake of the Taliban’s lightning takeover of Afghanistan and the chaotic evacuation by International Coalition troops and governments in September 2021, the UK has begun the roll out of a resettlement scheme that will see 20,000 Afghan refugees brought to the UK over the next five years. 

However, Afghans have been applying for asylum in the UK by the thousands every year since 2011, totalling 14,630 applications in the decade leading up to the Taliban’s victory (2011-2020). Of these, only 5,347 (37%) applications were granted protections by the Home Office in this decade. 

The resettlement scheme has already been criticized as “too little, too late” by Amnesty International UK, and is under fire for significant shortfalls in funding and housing provision required to resettle the promised 20,000 Afghan refugees.

For Iraqis, no British resettlement scheme exists at all for civilians whose lives have been upended and destroyed by war, despite being the second worst-affected country for civilian casualties of explosive violence in the last ten years, after Syria. 

Civilian casualties of explosive weapons in Iraq amount to only 27% fewer than that of Syria, yet the UK government recently completed a five year programme of resettlement for 20,000 Syrian refugees

Iraq Body Count has estimated that since the 2003 invasion to present, over 200,000 civilians have lost their lives to the violence of war in Iraq. According to AOAV data, at least 56,316 civilians have been killed or injured by explosive weapons, accounting for 77% of the total casualties of explosive violence in the country. 

Though Britain’s on-the-ground military presence in Iraq formally ended in 2009, their armed intervention in Iraq has continued in Operation Shader, the UK’s air campaign against the Islamic State/Daesh. RAF aircraft and drones have carried out as many as 10,000 air missions in Iraq and Syria since 2014, and the mission is still ongoing.

The number of civilian casualties incurred as a result of Britain’s contribution to the international coalition’s air war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria (Operation Inherent Resolve) is unknown. The Ministry of Defence continues to claim that since 2014, British airstrikes have caused only one civilian casualty. However, UK-based NGO Airwars has recorded 34,790 strikes in Iraq and Syria by the US-led coalition since the Operation began in August 2014. These strikes are estimated to have caused as many as 13,174 civilian casualties. 

Research by Drone Wars, obtained primarily through Freedom of Information requests, has recorded 4,318 weapons launched by RAF jets and Reaper drones in the course of its contribution to Operation Inherent Resolve (August 2014 to Jun 2021, codenamed by UK armed forces as Operation Shader). 

It is likely that the number of civilian casualties caused by British military interventions in the region is far higher than only one. Yet, of the 16,706 applications for asylum made by Iraqis to the UK over the last decade, 77% (12,844) were refused protections by the UK Home Office. 

In a conflict deemed as much a failure as the war in Afghanistan (if not worse), a resettlement scheme for Iraqi asylum seekers fleeing violence would be justifiable when compared to the limited protections extended to Afghans. 

Beyond the War on Terror

Pakistan, Nigeria, and Ukraine are other countries that have high rates of refusal for asylum in the UK, but also rank within the top fifteen worst-affected countries for civilian casualties of explosive violence. 

Pakistani nationals have the second highest number of applications for asylum in the UK (2011-2020), with 24,793 applications made. Yet, despite being the fourth worst-affected country globally for civilian casualties of explosive violence according to AOAV data, 89% of asylum applications to the UK were refused in the last decade (22,093).

Nigeria is the sixth worst-affected country in terms of civilian casualties of explosive weapon use and among the top 15 nationality groups applying to the UK for asylum. However, only 25% of asylum seekers were granted protection. 

And Ukraine is the 12th worst-affected country in terms of civilian casualties of explosive weapon use and among the top 15 nationality groups applying to the UK for asylum. But 96% of applicants were refused protection by the Home Office from 2011 to 2020. 

As Iain Overton, AOAV’s Executive Director, says: “Explosive violence is perhaps the most injurious and disproportionate form of violence there is. But despite countries facing a surge of indiscriminate bombings and air-strikes, such threat does not translate into calls for asylum being met.”

“Clearly each and every asylum case has to be based on its own merit, but these findings paint a disturbing picture where the UK could stand accused of failing to clean up the mess it has helped create. The moral argument for going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan was forcibly made. Perhaps the moral argument for providing sanctuary to those fleeing such wars need to be equally loud.”