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ENG 208: British/Irish Immigration Literature: A Student-Curated Display: Group 6

Group 6

Group 6's project is... Afgan migrants in the UK

Group 6's members include...Dan Carr, Tim Christman, Caroline Beljan, and Dierdre Taft-lockard.


Overview by Dan Carr

The Afghan people consist of the descendants of several tribes, the most prominent of which include the Pashtun and Tajik. In turn, most of them claim their descent from either Jewish and Islamic figures or past invaders of the region. However, they are united by certain shared cultural characteristics, such as affinities for music and dance, handiwork and crafts, and sports like goat grabbing and kite fighting. They also share religion, with the vast majority of individuals adhering to the Sunni sect of Islam (Wahab 2019).

The history of the nation has been a tumultuous one. In the past two hundred years alone, it has faced numerous invasions, foreign influencers, and civil conflicts between opposing political forces. By the mid-20 th century, the country began to stabilize and prosper through globalizing its economy and enacting social/political reforms. However, divisions once again took hold of the nation, and a coup was performed in 1973. The newly installed government, thought to be sympathetic to Soviet Russia, began balancing influence between the world’s Eastern Powers and Western Powers. This led to a second coup in 1977, which installed a thoroughly communist regime. Problems with this regime led the Soviets to invade and take control of the country in 1979 (Wahab 2019). This situation resulted in the first wave of Afghan refugees. Many of these were the intellectuals and religious persecuted by the Afghan Communists, attempting to avoid the fates of 27,000-50,000 others killed in political executions (Woods 173). They also included those displaced in the resulting war between the Soviets and jihadist Afghans, which mainly took place in the countryside and claimed the lives of 600,000-1.5 million Afghans (Woods 178). After the war concluded, the jihadists, or mujahideen, took control of the state. Their rule proved to add even more disaster to the region and caused another wave of migration. A major reason for this was the failure of the mujahideen to unite, which led to civil conflicts between them that often caught urban civilians in crossfire. Another factor was the brutal rule of the mujahideen warlords, who treated their subjects barbarically as conquered peoples and commonly engaged in activities of rape, murder, looting, and theft (Wahab 2019). Like problems still ensued when the Taliban seized control of the country in 1996 and installed a system strictly adherent to their interpretation of Muslim laws. This disrupted the lifestyles of many Afghans and brutally oppressed those who did not follow them, and thus caused a third wave of migration (Wahab 2019).

While most of these individuals migrated to the neighboring countries of Iran and Pakistan (Guterres 2019), 56,000 currently reside in the United Kingdom. The majority of these refugees live in London, while the remainder are primarily concentrated in the southeast part of the state (Khan 277). In their collective experience, they have been both welcome and shunned by Britain’s people. While Britain has sympathized with the migrants’ plight and provided them with safe haven, it has also portrayed them as extremist and parasitic threats to both welfare and safety, provoking resistance to their presence (Khan 278). This resistance has led to many (and sometimes massive) deportations of these individuals over the years.

Settling into Britain, Afghan refugees have developed certain common characteristics. They often work as part of the service industry, including jobs such as as taxi driver, or as owners of shops and restaurants (Khan 279). In addition, primary influences on their lives and lifestyles include deep cultural ties (Khan 283) and beliefs in upward mobility (Khan 279).

As they are a distinct subset of British Society with such a tumultuous history, the group has been the focus of several authors. These include Guwali Passarlay, a novelist and refugee himself, who has written semi-autobiographical works pertaining to their journeys (Passarlay, 2020). Zabi Saffi, an author living in Yorkshire, has also focused on Afghan Refugees in Britain (Saffi, 2020). In addition to these fictional works, several scholarly articles have been written about the group. This literature contributes a great deal of insight into the struggles and identities of Afghan refugees, and it is because of their insight that these titles have been recommended.

Works Cited:

  • Guterres, Antonio. “Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme on the Afghan refugee situation.” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 6 October 2015.
  • Khan, Nicole. “‘From Refugees to the World Stage’: Sport, Civilisation and Modernity in Out of the Ashes and the UK Afghan Diaspora.” South Asian Popular Culture, vol. 11, no. 3, Nov. 2013.
  • Passarlay, Gulwari. Gulwali Passarlay. Wordpress. January 2020. Web. Accessed 16 April 2020.
  • Saffi, Zabi. “Zabi Saffi.” Amazon. 2020. Web. Accessed 16 April 2020.
  • Wahab, Shaista, and Barry Youngerman. A Brief History of Afghanistan. Second edition., Facts on File, 2019.
  • Woods, Elliott D. “All That Remains: One Afghan Refugee’s Quest to Recover the Past.” Virginia Quarterly Review, vol. 87, no. 4, Fall 2011, pp. 167–190

Book Reviews

Article Reviews

Review by Tim Christman

Gladwell, Catherine, and Hannah Elwyn. “Broken Futures: Young Afghan Asylum Seekers in the UK and on Return to Their Country of Origin.” UNHCR, Oct. 2012,

This article immediately asserts how 1,277 unaccompanied minors that claimed asylum in 2011 in the UK. Claiming asylum or seeking asylum means that a person originally fled their country due to war or endangerment.  From the 1,277minors, 388 of them were from Afghanistan which is the country of origin that has the highest amount of unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors in the world. Due to the current standards that are in place, the UK is strictly prohibited from returning children to their countries of origin unless there are adequate reception facilities where they would be able to return to. The Secretary of State too must deem the child’s passage home to be safe in order to let them go. If the UK believes that there is any uncertainty regarding the child’s departure to their “homeland”, then the minor will be placed on DLR.  DLR typically lasts 4 years or until the unaccompanied minor turns 17.5. Then those minors can register for another request to leave, but those requests are constantly not allowed by the UK. Between 2005-2010 only 3% of such requests have been granted. In this article, a total of 51 in-depth, semi-structured interviews were carried out between January 2012 and April 2012. From these interviews, 24 of them were former unaccompanied minors in the UK, the majority of whom are appealing rights exhausted and liable to be removed from the UK. Another 14 were with professionals working with former unaccompanied minors in the UK. Finally, 13 were with professionals based in Afghanistan (largely Kabul) who have worked with returnee children and young people. All of the young people interviewed for this research were male, and ranged in age from 17.5 to 22. The majority are from Afghanistan (18), but young people from Iran, Eritrea, Sudan and Albania were also interviewed. From reading this article, it is simple to interpret that although there is a very interesting dynamic that accompanies the professionals who are working in Afghanistan and the unaccompanied minors, it seems as though the minors have many fears regarding their return back to their country of origin and some want no part of that journey. Yet, the professionals in Afghanistan and the Refugee Support Network are advocating with the UK to bring these children home. 

Review by Tim Christman

“Afghanistan's Refugees: Forty Years of Dispossession.” Amnesty International,

This article opens by discussing the realities that Afghan refugees have had to deal with over the last 40 years.  The article mentions the Soviet Invasion in 1979 that led to there being 4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. By asserting that Afghan refugees are one of the world’s largest protracted refugee populations, it puts into perspective how Afghanistan must have internal conflict for there to be so many of their people to be continually flocking away from their homeland. However, the article too mentions that over the past four decades, many of these refugees are actually being forced from their homes. There currently are more than 2.6 million registered refugees in the world from Afghanistan. This is more than one in ten of all refugees, and the second highest number after Syria. There are many more who haven’t been registered or who are currently asylum-seekers. There too are two million people who have been “displaced” by ongoing conflict. The article then goes into specific regions of the world where the displacement of Afghan Refugees is abundant. In recent years, along with Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Finland and Turkey have forcibly returned tens of thousands of Afghans whose asylum claims have been rejected. The returns are a clear breach of the principle of non-refoulment. This is the right to not be sent back to a country where one might be at risk of serious human rights violations and abuses.

The article states that “, according to official EU statistics, between 2015 and 2016, the number of Afghans returned by European countries to Afghanistan nearly tripled: from 3,290 to 9,460. The returns correspond to marked fall in recognition of asylum applications, from 68% in September 2015 to 33% in December 2016.” This highlights how there is an enormous number of Afghans who simply can’t be displaced or can seek betterment due to the surplus of people who want out of Afghanistan. The article personifies the ongoing problems in security that these refugees are faced with on return to their homeland. It wraps up by discussing how the EU (European Union) recently signed the “Joint Way Forward” agreement that will return asylum seekers when the time is right for both parties.

Review by Caroline Beljan

In the article “Risks encountered after forced removal: the return experiences of young Afghans,” Bowerman outlines the states of over 2,000 Afghan individuals who came to the UK as unaccompanied children with refugee status, spent their teenage years in the UK care system, and were expelled to Afghanistan as they reached adulthood. The challenges that the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children faced when forced back to Afghanistan, was finding themselves cut off from any potential support that could have helped them have a future. The RSN or Refugee Support Network, has now enforced a “Youth on the Move” program where their goals are to support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who had been exiled out of the UK.

The research that has been done has been able to help the Refugee Support Network systematically monitor and record what may have happened to the former children who had been forced out of the UK and back to Afghanistan after turning 18. There have been many interviews conducted as well with individuals who have left the country or who have been cut off for unknown reasons. The RSN has been able to interview more than 153 in-depth-interviews with roughly 25 people who have been sent out of the UK. 

Some of the challenges that came along with these interviews was establishing contact with the people upon their return and remaining consistent contact with the returnees in the UK throughout the research process. In these interviews, the individuals expressed concerns of security, caused by trouble in finding jobs and housing, as well as anti-returnee discrimination/violence. They also expressed their doubts in being able to communicate with their UK contacts and family members due to weak and nonexistent social networks. Some of the findings was the fear of stigmas and discrimination increased isolation, the difficulty in finding sustainable work, limited access to essential support and health care. 

Review by Caroline Beljan

In this article, “Imagined Communities Relations of Social Identities and Social Organization among Afghan Diaspora Groups in Germany and the UK,” the focal point is on how Afghans in Britain and Germany identify themselves. It also mentions how they are perceived by others and make connections with those others. People’s attitudes towards each other, as well as their tendency to include others, exclude others, and form groups with others, are influenced primarily by the factors of family ties, class backgrounds, ethnicity, and political affiliations. All of these connections that are made with Afghan groups in Germany and the UK, establish how people perceive them and influence how they live their lives.

There has been evidence of what is known as, “an imagined community” which manifests the concern about Afghanistan and self-identifying as “being Afghan”. Afghans are part of an “imagined community”, which is demonstrated in their shared concerns. These include their conversations about Afghanistan and their self-identities as Afghans.  

Carolin Fischer has done tremendous work and advocacy on behalf of drawing attention to the Afghan Refugees. She has done brilliant research in this book and has been published in numerous books, peer edited journal articles and others. Her diligent research and publications have drawn attention to the many social identity issues and the dysmorphia between Afghan Groups in the Germany and the UK. In her work, “Imagined Communities Relations of Social Identities and Social Organization among Afghan Diaspora Groups in Germany and the UK,” her approach is to try and demonstrate the gap of social identity and the effects of it in countries like Germany and the UK. This gap she demonstrates is able to clarify the shared concern about how the “imagined community” is only part of the problem that has been going on throughout history.

Review by Deirdre Taft-Lockard

The article “Transitions, capabilities and wellbeing: how Afghan unaccompanied young people experience becoming ‘adult’ in the UK and beyond” by Elaine Chase focuses on the relationship between what Afghan migrants need and what they have to do to have a future in the United Kingdom.

This article begins by providing the reader with necessary background information. It includes a striking figure for the number of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in Europe – the numbers increased from 12,000 to 90,000 each year (Chase 439). The introduction also presents a key component of the study, “[most] ‘unaccompanied minors’ are not given refugee status but one of a number of time-limited periods of discretionary leave until they become ‘adult’” (Chase 439). Once the young asylum seeker becomes an adult, they can lose access to many government and legal resources (Chase 440)

A primary strength of this article is that it is a peer-reviewed study. This status ensures the quality of the information and conclusions in the article, making it a valuable resource for research. Additionally, this article includes excerpts of quotes from interviews between the researchers and participants. These quotes add personal details to the article that would have been lost if this information were instead summarized.

Even with these strengths, the article does have its weaknesses. This study has an unclear number of participants, and it does not include a specific breakdown of the number of participants by age, region, or refugee status. For example, only 31 of the approximate 60 participants included were from Afghanistan (Chase 442-443). Another weakness is that despite stating that there are no biases, several members of the research team were once unaccompanied children who fled their home country for England (Chase 443). Their own personal experiences suggest the possibility that those members of the research team may have unintended biases about this topic.

This detailed and focused article is an insightful read into the experience of refugee minors in the United Kingdom, especially once they become adults.