Afghan judge who put Taliban members behind bars ‘overjoyed’ to be given sanctuary in UK

The judge spent two years in hiding in Pakistan as she battled to get to Britain - but says a ‘huge weight’ has now been lifted

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Thursday 20 July 2023 17:53 BST
The 53-year-old judge and women’s rights defender, who arrived in London from Pakistan in June, have been reunited with their British family members in the UK after almost nearly two years of lawyers fighting on their behalf
The 53-year-old judge and women’s rights defender, who arrived in London from Pakistan in June, have been reunited with their British family members in the UK after almost nearly two years of lawyers fighting on their behalf (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

A female Afghan judge is “overjoyed” about being allowed to come to the UK with her son after spending two years in hiding from the Taliban.

Yosra, a judge and women’s rights defender, fled Afghanistan in fear of her life in September 2021, a month after the Taliban seized power of Kabul.

She spent two years living in hiding in Pakistan after being told she could not come to the UK under a scheme designed to relocate those who helped Britain during the war.

But now, after almost two years of fighting for sanctuary, the 53-year-old has arrived in London, where she has been reunited with family members already living in the UK.

Yosra’s family and legal team thanked The Independent for raising awareness of her plight as she described her arrival to the UK as a “dream”. The Independent is campaigning for Afghans who worked alongside British armed forces to be given safe haven in the UK.

“We still cannot believe that the dream we didn't even dare to dream for so long has finally become a reality,” Yosra, whose name has been changed to protect her safety, said.

“The last almost two years have been the most gruelling time we've ever been through.”

Speaking toThe Independent in February, Yosra explained she was at particular risk due to her work overseeing the trials of Taliban members who plotted terrorist attacks against the government and international forces.

She said her and her adult son learned to “fight for our life every day” as they battled their way out of Afghanistan.

The former judge, who presided over cases involving murder, kidnapping, rape and violence against women as a judge in the criminal court, added: “We eventually managed to flee to Pakistan but had to remain in hiding as police regularly captured Afghan refugees and either imprisoned or deported them back to Afghanistan.”

She said they were thrilled to be "finally safe in the UK” and that a “huge weight on our shoulders and minds has finally been lifted”.

“We so much enjoy being able to walk around safely and freely now, sitting in our family's garden and feeling just peace around us, and sleeping quietly and comfortably, knowing the next day we will wake up in our safe new home,” Yosra added.

Yosra explained the “ongoing fear for our life and the restrictions we faced as a result” exerted an “enormous burden” on her and her son "mentally and emotionally” while in hiding in Pakistan.

“We only left the small apartment our family in the UK rented for us to go buy groceries or see the doctors,” she recalled. “Two days before we flew to the UK, our apartment block got raided by police to arrest Afghan refugees - luckily we were out at the doctors at the time.”

The Home Office granted the judge and her son entry to the UK under the government’s flagship resettlement scheme for Afghans, known as the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme (ACRS), in June 2023.

The two have been given indefinite leave to enter and will be eligible to apply for British citizenship after half a decade.

ACRS, which opened in January last year, aimed to resettle 5,000 Afghans in the first year and up to 20,000 over five years. It was designed to help those who have “assisted the UK efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for UK values” as well as vulnerable people, such as women and girls.

Pathway one issued visas to those already in the UK after they were evacuated by British forces after the fall of Kabul, while pathway two was opened up for Afghan families who fled Afghanistan into neighbouring countries and have been identified by the UNHCR as in need of resettlement.

However, the scheme has been criticised by campaigners for not helping enough people. Some who have been approved under the scheme are also stuck in a bottleneck in third safe countries, waiting to make it to the UK.

Yosra and her son had also applied to come to the UK under the Afghan Relocation Assistance Policy (ARAP), aimed at getting those who worked with British forces out of Afghanistan, but their application had been rejected.

Female judges from Afghanistan may be eligible to apply for ARAP but approval depends on the nature of their work and closely they worked with UK authorities.

It comes afterThe Independent revealed in September 2021 that more than 200 women judges were in hiding in Afghanistan, fearing they would be killed by the Taliban because of their work.

The Taliban has freed thousands of prisoners, including terrorists and senior al Qaeda operatives, and experts have warned that the judges responsible for sending many of them to jail were left terrified for their safety now they are free.

The hardline Islamist group, which previously ruled the country, has blocked women from the workplace, education and public spaces, as well as barring them from taking part in all sports since grabbing power after US and British forces withdrew.

Lucy Blake, special counsel at Jenner & Block in London, a legal firm involved in Yorsa’s case, told The Independent she was “completely elated and relieved” to learn Yosra had been permitted entry to the UK.

She said they were “grateful” for the work of UK journalists, including The Independent, for shedding light on the plight faced by Yosra and other Afghan judges.

“This media coverage supported our arguments that it was in the public interest to admit Yosra and her son to this country,” Ms Blake added.

“This has been a two-year ordeal not only for Yosra and her son living in hiding in Pakistan but also for her family in the UK who have been terrified for her safety.”

Yosra’s relatives that live in the UK are close family members and include her sister and nephew, she added.

Oliver Oldman, of Kingsley Napley, also involved in the case, said: "We are thrilled to see them reunited at last but remain concerned about the other vulnerable Afghans, including judges, who remain in hiding.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Whilst we don’t comment on individual cases, we remain committed to providing protection for vulnerable and at-risk people fleeing Afghanistan – including female judges – and so far have brought around 24,500 people to the UK.

“We continue to work with likeminded partners and countries neighbouring Afghanistan on resettlement issues, and to support safe passage for eligible people.”

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