Afghans in the United Kingdom
14,875 (2001 Census figure)
56,000 (2009 ONS estimate)
|Regions with significant populations|
|British English, Dari, Pashto and various other languages of Afghanistan|
with Sikh and Hindu as minority
Afghans in the United Kingdom include British citizens and non-citizen residents born in, or with ancestors from, Afghanistan. In 2009, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that there are 56,000 Afghans living in the UK.
At the 2001 census, about 70% of Afghans lived in the capital. They are mainly distributed in northwestern areas. At the 2011 census, there were 37,680 Afghan-born residents living in the region. Hounslow leads with 4,463 residents, followed by Brent (3,698), Harrow (3,314) and Barnet (3,234). The least-three are Bromley (115), Bexley (109) and Havering (53).
Districts with significant populations include: central and western areas of Brent, western areas of Barnet, southern areas of Harrow and western areas of Ealing, which includes Southall. Smaller communities are found in the southwest and the northeast.
The West Midlands has the second largest number of Afghans, with the larger communities in Birmingham (second highest city in the country), Coventry and Wolverhampton, and minor communities in Walsall.
The six cities after London and Birmingham in terms of Afghan population are Manchester, Leicester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Southampton, Sheffield and Nottingham. Other cities with notable Afghan communities include Cardiff, Brighton, Bradford, Liverpool, Peterborough, Stockport and Bolton.
In 2001 the single largest Afghan community in the UK was West Southall, where 1,121 Afghan-born people and many more of Afghan descent live. The locations with the fewest Afghan-born residents are Northern Ireland and Wales, which as subdivisions are estimated to have no greater than 100 Afghan residents each.
The first Afghan immigrants to the British capital were students, businesspeople and Afghan government officials. It wasn't until years later that significant numbers came in the form of refugees. The first large wave of Afghan immigrants to the UK were political refugees fleeing the 1980s communist regime and numerous others came in the early 1990s escaping Mujahideen. The number skyrocketed later that decade due to the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Some British Afghans may have probably come from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of British India before the declaration of Pakistan, as such subsequent people from NWFP became recognised as Pakistanis.
Refugees of war and asylum policies
As stated earlier, one of the large flows of Afghans to the UK was caused by refugees fleeing Afghanistan after the Taliban came to power. The country has been in a state of political unrest ever since. Despite the flow of immigrants and refugees remaining fairly stable over the new millennium period, the number of Afghans coming to the UK since the mid-2000s has completely eclipsed the recorded number of Afghans in the 2001 census, as more and more are fleeing the threat of violence and even death in their homeland during the War in Afghanistan. In 2003, the British government announced that they would begin enforced repatriation of failed asylum-seekers in April. This marked a break from the previous policy, observed continuously since 1978, of not returning any Afghans to their country of origin whether or not they were deemed to be economic migrants. At the time, roughly 700 Afghans applied for asylum in the United Kingdom each month, making them one of the largest group of asylum-seekers along with Iraqis.
A number of unofficial population estimates have been made. Ethnologue estimates that there are 75,000 native Northern Pashto speakers in the UK, although these may comprise persons of other nationalities as well as Afghans. The number of Pashtuns in the UK is estimated at 100,000 (the largest community of Pashtuns in the Western World) and the majority of Afghan Muslims in the UK are of Pashtun origin, although Pashtuns also originate in parts of Pakistan. Other sources have put the Afghan population in London alone at 45,000 and 56,000. whilst the Afghan Association of London estimates that the population of Afghans in the whole UK stands at 70,000. The International Organization for Migration conducted a mapping exercise in 2006, suggesting that the Afghan population of the UK was 20,000.
Between 1994 and 2006, around 36,000 Afghans claimed asylum in the UK. Many whose claims were refused have not returned to Afghanistan, although the International Organization for Migration has helped some voluntarily return. 5,540 Afghan nationals were granted British citizenship in 2008, down from 10,555 in 2007.
Most Afghans in the UK follow Sunni Islam although there is a significant number of Shias. There are also minority of Sikh and Hindu Afghans in the Greater London area. In addition, there is a small Afghan Jewish community in London with a synagogue. One study of Afghan Muslims in England suggests that the majority are of Pashtun ancestry. Overall, there are thought to be up to 100,000 Pashtuns in the UK, forming the largest community of Pashtuns in the West, however most are of Pakistani Pashtun heritage.
Most Pashtuns who originate from Afghanistan use Pashto in addition to English, with Dari (Afghan Persian) as a third language. Tajiks use Persian while Hazaras use Hazaragi, although some Tajiks and Hazaras are also fluent in Pashto. Pashto and Dari are both the official languages of Afghanistan.
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