It is heart breaking to watch the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and the scenes of people fleeing on the streets and at the airport are very shocking indeed. My thoughts are with the Afghan people and for what this now means, especially for women and girls.
There are very serious questions about the failed political and development strategy of the last ten years. As such, we face the tragic rollback of those gains that UK soldiers, diplomats and NGO workers, and their coalition and Afghan partners, have worked so hard for. There is a real risk of a humanitarian disaster, particularly for women and girls. Worse still, it is utterly shameful that the government recently slashed development support to the country by 45% just as it faces a grave crisis. Therefore, it is vital the U.K. takes immediate steps to ensure aid can reach those in need and prevent a humanitarian crisis.
The priority now must be for the government to accelerate efforts to get UK nationals and eligible Afghans out of the country, and British troops and officials are working in difficult circumstances to their upmost on the ground in Kabul. I believe the government has been far too slow to provide sanctuary to those Afghans who have served alongside and supported the British presence in Afghanistan. This is a shameful dereliction of duty. Even now, there are reports of Afghans facing unacceptable bureaucratic hurdles.
Today’s announcement of the Afghan Citizen’s Resettlement Scheme is just not good enough. I do not believe this scheme meets the scale of the challenge – only 5,000 Afghans fleeing the Taliban are to be welcomed to the UK in the year ahead. Not only does that risk leaving people in Afghanistan in deadly danger, it will also undermine the leadership role Britain must play in persuading international partners to live up to their responsibilities. The Prime Minister needs to provide more clarity over the resettlement scheme and how he’s going to implement it.
More widely, the Taliban’s return is likely to lead to a refugee crisis. The UK Government must urgently put in place specific safe and legal asylum routes and help support Afghans who are fleeing to neighbouring states – I believe it is our moral and international duty to provide a safe refuge to those who want to leave Afghanistan and come to the UK, as my colleague Nick Thomas-Symonds – Labour’s shadow Home Secretary – has made clear in a letter to the Home Secretary.
It is deeply shameful that the government has been silent as Afghanistan collapses. The Foreign Secretary has been completely absent during this crisis, with media reports that he was on the beach while Kabul fell to the Taliban, my colleague Lisa Nandy, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, rightly described him as “going AWOL” at a time we desperately need leadership.
Today’s recall in Parliament is an opportunity for the government to explain to MPs how it plans to work with allies to avoid a humanitarian crisis and lay out a strategy to prevent Afghanistan becoming once again a safe haven and operational hub for international terrorism that threatens our national security. The Prime Minister will face many angry MPs, not just on our benches but on his own benches too, for the way he has dealt with this crisis. Although as Shadow Minister for Europe and the Americas, I won’t be able to speak during the debate, my colleague Lisa Nandy, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, will be speaking for the wider team.
As your MP, I assure you that this crisis is at the top of my agenda and I will continue to work extremely closely with Keir and my Labour colleagues to urge the government to do the right thing and take responsibility for this crisis.