For thousands of Afghans rescued from their homeland, the terror of life under the Taliban is over.
But many more refugees are still stuck in the UK, a country they say does not recognize their fear of persecution, and risk being sent back to a homeland they believe is unsafe.
Wrya Dara, 30, is an Iraqi Kurd whose plight is largely ignored by society.
Three years ago he handed over a thousand US dollars (around 720 pounds) to smugglers on the border between Kurdistan and Turkey and got into a refrigerated container without knowing where he was or where he was going.
Finally, three thousand miles later, a police officer opened the doors and said to the dozen migrants inside, “This is England. UNITED KINGDOM.”
Mr Dara, a college graduate, blinked at the first light he had seen in days, had never asked to come to the UK and has since been denied residence.
Many Kurds say the West does not know how dire the situation is in Kurdistan, where the government controls much of the media and journalists are sometimes imprisoned.
Mr Dara has been an advocate for human rights in Kurdistan since arriving in the UK in January 2018 and he believes activism is enough to ensure that he would be a target upon his return.
“If they send me back, it’s like being murdered or something,” he said.
He fled after the terrorist group called Islamic State invaded northern Iraq, which was defeated by Iraqi government-backed Shiite militias in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in October 2017.
Since then, he has not heard from his father, mother, or his two siblings and the Red Cross has not been able to track them down.
Mr. Dara, whose mother tongue is Kurdish, said: “I don’t know what happened to you. There is no authority there, the situation is getting really bad, killing people is a normal thing, everyday occurrence. “
Imprisoned near London, detained in Croydon, then stayed at an immigration hostel in Liverpool and now lives in Salford.
The Interior Ministry told him that if he cannot return to Kurdistan, he could instead go to Baghdad in Iraq, which is not Kurdish and where he doesn’t know anyone.
Not allowed to work, benefit or seek education, he relies on the charity of other Kurds in the UK to find out what happened to his family and to raise awareness of what is going on at home.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has proposed major reforms to the asylum system, but activists have criticized the plans, including the criminal offense of entering the UK without permission, with harsher penalties for people smugglers.
Akam Ali, 25, crossed from Turkey to Greece, was crammed into a small boat and detained on arrival.
He said, “I stayed in prison for two months because they said, ‘You are coming to this country illegally.’ I say, ‘I’m running from the war. Should I get a passport? A jacket? I’m running away from the war. “
“I have never been abroad. Sometimes it’s out of your hand. If you pay a smuggler, they’ll put you in a truck and you don’t know where you are going, you’ve never been here, you’ve never been to Europe.
“You don’t know where you are going because it’s not legal.”
His asylum application was not accepted.
He lived alone in Stockton-on-Tees for two years, feeling lonely and “ashamed” of his lack of English, just desperate for someone to talk to.
Mr. Ali, who now lives in Rochdale, said: “Being an immigrant is not easy. Some people, not just English, German, all the other countries that have immigrants, think you sit and take benefits and just want to use the land.
“It’s not like that. Believe me, it’s really tough. Not easy at all.
“I never wanted to be an immigrant, but if you have nothing you have to leave your country, your parents, leave everything, friends, it’s not easy.”
Mr. Ali values religious and political freedom in the UK; he wants work and a family, but is also not allowed to, as he is waiting in the limbo of immigration.
He added, “I’m just a person like everyone else. Even listening, it means so much.
“I really appreciate listening to us.”
As of March 2021, the total number of asylum cases “in progress” was 109,000, according to statistics from the House of Commons library.
Of these, 52,000 cases were waiting for a first decision at the end of 2020, 5,200 for the result of an appeal process and around 41,600 cases were awaiting deportation.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Britain prides itself on protecting the most vulnerable people in need of our protection.
“If a person is found to have a reasonable fear of persecution, they will normally be protected in the UK and no one who is genuinely at risk of persecution or serious harm in their country is likely to return there.”
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