Boris Johnson has a moral duty to help create safe passage for those left behind in Afghanistan

·4-min read

The scenes we have all seen over the last week coming out of Kabul airport – particularly the tragic aftermath of the appalling terror attack – and around Afghanistan have been heartbreaking.

It is shameful that the government has admitted this week that thousands of Afghans who helped British efforts in the country would be left behind. These people risked their lives over the last twenty years, working tirelessly, supporting the British Armed Forces on the frontlines. It is deeply saddening that these brave people will now be at the mercy of the Taliban regime.

However, safety from the Taliban and other militant groups should not just be for foreign nationals or the lucky few who have been able to make it to Kabul airport. Across Afghanistan, there are millions of innocent people fearing for their lives.

There are countless stories of women and girls terrified their freedoms and rights are about to be taken away, gay people who fear execution, minority communities like the Hazaras who were hunted down last time the Taliban were in power and expect the same again.

As we see the evacuation effort come to an end and the continuing threat to Kabul airport, we now have to look at how we can help this tragic situation. In his call to MPs this week, the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, assured me that even when the planes stop flying the lists for the various relocation schemes will remain open.

But what’s the point of being on a list of then you cannot get out to get to the UK? And with no prospect of a fully-functioning airport at Kabul any time soon, we have to assume this can only be done over land in third countries. That’s why the prime minister, Boris Johnson, must arrange the provision of a safe passage corridor for all those who wish to leave Afghanistan after the Taliban’s deadline.

A "safe corridor" is a route out of a conflict zone for civilians and non-combatants. These corridors are only as safe as the parties to the conflict allow them to be. They are not, and never can be, a guarantee of safety. Unfortunately we know it is unlikely for the Taliban and others to respect these values and principles, however we must maximise our efforts to create safe passages.

In the 2008 conflict between the Tutsi militia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, supported by the UN, following a negotiated ceasefire a "humanitarian aid corridor" was created to allow the transportation of aid into civilian areas, which was widely respected by the rebels. There is hope for safe passage corridors.

With Johnson's pleas falling on deaf ears in a meeting of the G7 this week, the government should now use every diplomatic tool available to them and redeem themselves. The prime minister must lobby the United Nations and put whatever pressure necessary on influential countries that have links to the Taliban.

In particular the UK has a historic relationship with Commonwealth member Pakistan, whose security forces hold considerable sway with the Taliban regime. We must utilise that leverage to secure safe passage for those fleeing the Taliban and seeking refuge. The corridor would not necessarily mean permanent refuge in these neighbouring countries but would be a safe haven for those we were not able to evacuate before the deadline.

The UK also needs to step up and play its part as we face a huge humanitarian crisis. So far, the government has only promised to resettle 5,000 refugees this year, with a vague ambition of up to 20,000 in the “long term”. The government must settle 20,000 as a bare minimum, as quickly as possible. What are the rest meant to do in the meantime. Wait in hiding and hope not to be killed?

Instead of turning our backs on those refugees, the government must make a far more ambitious commitment to bring those fleeing the Taliban to safety.

The UK has a long history of providing sanctuary to those in need. I am proud of our councils in towns and cities who have already said they will open their hearts and give these brave people a warm welcome, as well as institutions like universities and private sector companies who have said they will help too. We all have a moral duty to help. Now we just need our Government to follow society’s lead.

Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for foreign affairs and international development and the party’s MP for Oxford West and Abingdon

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