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Less than fifth of Afghan young people granted asylum in UK since 2009 were women or girls

Under a fifth (18%) of young adults and children from Afghanistan granted asylum since 2009 have been female, an analysis of Home Office data by the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal. Moreover, only 15% of under 18s granted asylum since 2009 were girls – 781 girls compared to 5,100 boys. 

Home Office data has referenced the gender of applicants since 2009, since which time 1,324 women and girls aged under-29 have been granted asylum or leave to remain, out of 7,409 young adults and children. 

The UK Government has now announced it will resettle thousands of people seeking asylum from Afghanistan, using a “bespoke resettlement scheme”. The scheme will be intended particularly for women and girls who face oppression and persecution under the Taliban.

During the previous Taliban regime in the 1990s, girls were excluded from education and women were banned from working. They had to wear burqas and faced torture and execution if found guilty of breaking strict Sharia laws such as adultery. 

In recent weeks, there have been reports of Taliban fighters rounding up women aged 15-40 and coercing them into forced marriages – a euphemism for rape and servitude. 

Refugee rights campaigners are clear that the UK must propose a fair asylum system which ensures women, men and children can safely reach the UK and get the urgent support they need. However, they are concerned that the Home Office’s New Plan for Immigration will mean desperate individuals are unable to claim asylum. 

“Under the Government’s anti-refugee Bill, Afghan refugees arriving in the UK to seek refuge would be met with punishment, not protection,” Refugee Action’s Tim Naor-Hilton told Byline Times. “Their claim would likely be deemed inadmissible, they would be left in dilapidated army-barracks and potentially shipped off to faraway islands for who knows how long”.

Director of the CLASS think-tank, Ellie-Mae O’Hagan tweeted: “the feminist thing is to call for a fair and efficient asylum system that processes people of all genders quickly, so that they can safely rebuild their lives in our communities”.

Gender Disparity

The discrepancy between young men and women arriving in the UK is likely down to the fact that though the number of men and women displaced by war and conflict, or persecution, is roughly equal, the majority of refugee people arriving in Europe are men

Accordingly, the probable cause of the disparity in gender is that the journey from Afghanistan to the UK is dangerous and long – families are more likely to send young men on the risky journey while women and children are more likely to stay behind until the man has claimed asylum and the rest of the family can safely follow.

Another cause of the gender disparity between those arriving in the UK from countries like Afghanistan is that women and children are more likely to die on the dangerous Mediterranean crossing from the Middle East and South Asia than men. 

When introducing her new plan for immigration, the Home Secretary Priti Patel argued her redesigned system would address the gender imbalance. 

In a speech introducing her proposals, Patel justified the plans by asking: “where are the vulnerable women and children that this system should exist to protect?”

The new plan creates a tiered system where those arriving in the UK via so-called legal routes, including resettlement schemes, will be granted indefinite leave to remain if their asylum application is successful. Those arriving by irregular routes such as small boats would only receive temporary protection with reduced rights and entitlement and be regularly assessed for removal from the UK. 

However, Home Office data analysed by the Refugee Council found that 60% of women and children currently accepted as refugees to the UK would be turned away under the new plan.

“The appalling scenes in Afghanistan serve as a desperate example of why we need a strong asylum system,” Naor-Hilton explained. “However, 70 years after the UK signed the Refugee Convention, this Government is busy pulling up the drawbridge”.

Who Was Refused Asylum?

The Home Office data shows that 50% of people seeking asylum from Afghanistan since 2001 have been turned away. 32,213 (50%) people arriving from Afghanistan had their application refused, numbers that have also been reported in openDemocracy. 

As well as women and girls, older people were the least likely to come to the UK and be granted asylum or leave to remain. Since 2009, only 72 men over the age of 70 have been granted asylum and leave to remain, along with 80 women. 

The Home Office data does not disclose the reasons for refusing asylum to people arriving in the UK from Afghanistan. 

However, in 2017 the Home Office announced a policy change that meant LGBTIQ people claiming asylum on the basis they faced persecution for their sexuality could be returned to Afghanistan. The Home Office explained that “while space for being openly gay is limited, subject to individual factors, a practising gay man who, on return to Kabul, would not attract or seek to cause public outrage, would not face a real risk of persecution”. 

This ignored the fact that same-sex intimacy was criminalised in Afghanistan. It also contradicted a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that stated “to compel a homosexual person to pretend that his sexuality does not exist or suppress the behaviour by which to manifest itself is to deny his fundamental right to be who he is”. 

The Home Office has now deleted a document used by officials considering asylum applications that claimed there was no “real risk of harm” to the general public in Afghanistan. 

The guidance meant that people seeking asylum had to prove they were personally at risk through “individual circumstances”. The general security situation across the nation was not considered dangerous enough to grant them protection in Britain, neither was the threat of persecution of gay men. 

The document has not yet been replaced but up until the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, the Home Office position was that failed asylum seekers could still be safely deported to Kabul despite “indiscriminate violence”. The Home Office document also claimed the “proportion of the population affected by indiscriminate violence is small and not at a level where a returnee … would face a serious and individual threat to their life”.

Who was granted asylum?

In contrast, 45% of applicants – or 29,184 people – were granted some form of asylum or leave to remain. A further 5% (3,202 people) withdrew their applications. Since 2008, that number is 40%, suggesting fewer Afghan people being granted asylum as the war continued. 

840 people were given “UASC leave” to remain: meaning the individual is a child under the age of 17.5 who has applied for asylum but been refused refugee status. Humanitarian protection is granted via a form of limited leave if there are no adequate reception arrangements in the country to which they would otherwise be returned. 

The resettlement scheme, which Priti Patel has made the pillar of her new plans for refugees and people seeking asylum, resettled 289 people of which 83 were part of the Vulnerable Children Resettlement Scheme. 

“If this Government is serious about upholding its commitments to Afghan refugees fleeing the crisis,” Refugee Action’s Tim Naor-Hilton told Byline Times, “they must throw out the extreme and nasty anti-refugee Bill and build a protection system that actually provides safety”.


half the people seeking asylum in the UK from the country have been turned away, an analysis of Home Office data by the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal. 

Asylum application data since 2001 up until the first quarter of 2021 show that 

Of those whose applications were accepted, 13,015 were granted exceptional leave to remain – a status that recognises an individual cannot return to their home country. A further 6,170 people were granted discretionary leave to remain by the Home Secretary. This immigration status is for people who are able to prove to the Home Office that their circumstances are compelling on compassionate grounds, or who can demonstrate they can be granted leave outside the immigration rules.