The Government has been unable to overcome “legal barriers” preventing the island from taking in refugees from Afghanistan, the External Relations Minister has confirmed - but Jersey has pledged nearly £400,000 in aid to the nation in crisis.
Thousands of Afghans have fled since the Taliban took control of the country after the withdrawal of large numbers of Western troops, two decades after a US-led invasion removed the extremist group from power.
The UK Government announced last month that that 5,000 Afghan nationals would be resettled there over the next 12 months, prompting calls for the island to also offer up homes.
Jersey's Government had faced similar pressure in 2015 during the Syrian refugee crisis, but then-Chief Minister Senator Ian Gorst explained that this was not legally possible unless the island opened itself up to refugees from all other nations, as Jersey would otherwise be “vulnerable to a legal challenge on the grounds of discrimination.”
Responding to a letter from the panel of politicians responsible for scrutinising the island’s foreign policy, Senator Gorst wrote on Wednesday that these problems had not gone away.
Pictured: Former Chief Minister and current External Relations Minister Senator Ian Gorst said it was "very unlikely" Jersey would be able to accommodate refugees.
“The Panel will now be aware, following developments which are in the public domain, that it is very unlikely that Jersey will be able to directly accommodate any refugees from Afghanistan,” he said.
“As a small island community, we do face additional challenges in providing some of the facilities and services that are ideally required when accommodating refugees and, as you reference, there are legal barriers which we have again unfortunately not been able to overcome. These mirror those that we faced in 2015.”
He added: “I can confirm that Jersey Overseas Aid is working to provide any assistance they can to people in Afghanistan, ensuring that any support is properly and carefully targeted. In addition, I hope further announcements will be forthcoming regarding means by which the Government and wider community in Jersey can give its support for the refugees who have come to the UK. I can inform the Panel that a number of options are under consideration.”
Jersey Overseas Aid said last week that they were struggling to assess how best to respond to the “heartbreaking” crisis in Afghanistan without inadvertently supporting the Taliban.
The public-backed humanitarian aid organisation said that it was difficult to work out what support was needed and how it can “practically be provided”, given that supplies cannot easily enter the country, and aid agencies have withdrawn staff, with female workers particularly fearing attack.
However, JOA confirmed last night that it would be committing £375,000 in response to the crisis - £150,000 to the UNHCR (the United Nations High Commission for Refugees), £125,000 to British NGO ‘Street Child’ and £100,000 to the British Red Cross.
UNHCR is working to help the 600,000 newly-displaced people and also working to prepare neighbouring countries (Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) for any influx of additional refugees, with provisions such as tents and emergency shelters, medical supplies, safe drinking water and sanitary facilities.
Street Child will use Jersey’s funding to help provide emergency support for 15,000 vulnerable children in two Afghan provinces (Baghlan and Bamyan) with the highest proportion of displaced persons caused by the ongoing conflict - particularly focused on the protection and education of around 7,500 girls at extreme risk of violence, exploitation and early marriage.
Finally, the Red Cross will provide health care, food and other life-saving aid in even remote areas of the country.
International Development Minister Deputy Carolyn Labey said the funding pledge followed a "detailed assessment", adding: “Jersey is playing its part alongside larger countries in the international effort to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe from unfolding in Afghanistan”.
Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, UNHCR’s UK Representative, commented: “Jersey’s generous donation to UNHCR’s Afghanistan Appeal is timely and greatly appreciated. These funds are urgently needed and will help provide more life-saving humanitarian support to the many Afghans uprooted inside the country – almost 600,000 have been displaced this year alone – as well as refugees in neighbouring countries.
"They have already suffered huge upheavals and face more uncertainty and a gruelling winter ahead.”
The External Relations Minister is due to be questioned on the refugee response at a hearing this morning at 11:00.
At 11am tomorrow, the Economic and International Affairs Scrutiny Panel will question the Minister for External Relations & Financial Services, Senator @Ian_Gorst, at its Quarterly Public Hearing.— States Assembly (@StatesAssembly) September 9, 2021
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I expect 99.9% of the population are appalled by the dire problems in Afghanistan but no one - except a complete buffoon can expect everyone on this planet to live & thrive on an even standard of living and safety as that is quite impossible! Do I really need to explain this?
It seems that there is an ascending competition between certain States Members to rush through cretinous & rushed decisions just before they jump ship - leaving us with 4 decade commitments with obscene loans & the proposal of looking after refugees when we are looking at building on green zones etc JUST for the existing swollen population! With the refugees goes a raft of other problems identical to re-locating a Jersey person in Afghanistan!
I could go one but BWE will not print!
I reiterate I am wholly appalled by the Afghan problem but we are not able to assist!
And sending £400,000 to relieve some of the difficulties; what on earth can we be thinking?
Far better to add that contribution to the new hospital 'black hole'. After all, there's only been £100,000,000 wasted so far.
Anyway, the good news is, we can all sleep soundly in our impoverished island, knowing that it's someone else's brother, father or son that the Taliban will be torturing tonight for helping the allies, and someone else's sister, mother or daughter that they'll be shooting in the back of the head tomorrow, for leaving the house unaccompanied by a male.
So, I hope you get the message, all you Afghans; it's your fault you helped the allied forces to develop women's rights and education, and a free press. And by the way, Jersey is Full. Only enough room for a few dozen more tax exiles and several hundred other white folks before Christmas.
How grand we proud Jersey residents must look on the world stage. Generous to a fault!