Call for international response to prevent Afghanistan humanitarian disaster

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(MoD) (PA Media)
(MoD) (PA Media)

Boris Johnson is set to tell MPs that there must be an immediate increase in aid to Afghanistan to avert a humanitarian crisis erupting in the country following the Taliban’s seizure of power.

MPs will return to Parliament from their summer break for an emergency sitting on Wednesday, three days after Afghanistan’s capital Kabul fell to the militants on Sunday.

The Prime Minister and the Government have come under increasing pressure over the handling of the downfall of the Western-backed government and the subsequent evacuation of British nationals and local allies.

On Tuesday night, Mr Johnson announced a new settlement scheme, which would allow up to 20,000 Afghan vulnerable refugees to seek sanctuary in the UK over the coming years.

And the PM is expected to tell MPs of the steps the international community needs to take to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan, including the immediate increase in humanitarian aid to the country and the surrounding region as well as a longer-term project to support refugees.

The 16 Air Assault Brigade arriving in Kabul as part of a 600-strong UK-force sent to help rescue British nationals in Afghanistan (/PA) (PA Media)
The 16 Air Assault Brigade arriving in Kabul as part of a 600-strong UK-force sent to help rescue British nationals in Afghanistan (/PA) (PA Media)

But the settlement scheme was criticised as falling short of what was needed, and the PM can expect to come under fire from former Armed Services personnel on his own backbenches as he updates MPs on the work done to mitigate the crisis so far.

Protests are also planned outside of Parliament calling for support for Afghans and their families who have worked with the allies.

Speaking to US President Joe Biden on Tuesday night, Mr Johnson stressed the importance of work in the region and not to lose the gains of the last 20 years.

A No 10 spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister and President Biden agreed on the need for the global community to come together to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.”

While Home Secretary Priti Patel, writing in the Daily Telegraph, said although the UK had committed to taking in 5,000 refugees who were at risk of persecution by the Taliban in the first year of the new settlement scheme – and up to 20,000 overall – the country could not take all the strain alone.

She said: “The UK is also doing all it can to encourage other countries to help. Not only do we want to lead by example, we cannot do this alone.”

The newspaper reported that the Prime Minister had spoken to the French and German governments, and Ms Patel led talks with the Five Eyes intelligence alliance – comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States – to identify safe and legal routes for those who need to leave Afghanistan.

But opposition parties said this was not enough and criticised the scope of the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme, which will give priority to women and girls, and religious and other minorities.

Human rights groups also hit out at Government plans over immigration more widely.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow home secretary, welcomed that a scheme was now in place but said there needed to be a “more urgent plan of action”.

Taliban officials arrange a Taliban flag (Rahmat Gul/AP) (AP)
Taliban officials arrange a Taliban flag (Rahmat Gul/AP) (AP)

He said: “This proposal does not meet the scale of the challenge. 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.”

Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey said the party would be calling on the Government to increase its uptake of refugees to 20,000 “over the next year”, telling BBC Breakfast: “We know it’s hundreds of thousands of people whose lives are at risk. Britain needs to play a part, with other countries, and we need to play a part urgently.”

Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for foreign affairs, said: “We need these vulnerable people out of the country as soon as possible, instead of the Government’s vague promise of the ‘long-term’. The Government have kicked this into the long grass when Afghans need help now, today. 20,000 should be the starting point of this scheme, not the target.”

And Ian Blackford, the SNP’s leader in Westminster, said the target should be to welcome at least 35,000 to 40,000 Afghan refugees.

Former defence minister Tobias Ellwood, the Tory MP for Bournemouth East, was also vocal in his criticism of the scheme, calling it “woefully inadequate”.

Tory MP Tobias Ellwood said the scheme was ‘woefully inadequate’ (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Archive)
Tory MP Tobias Ellwood said the scheme was ‘woefully inadequate’ (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Archive)

He told the Daily Mirror: “The Government really needs to see the bigger picture here and grasp the scale of the crisis we created. We are capping the numbers to 5,000 for the first year, when the threat is at its greatest.”

The Government said the new scheme was in addition to the 5,000 Afghans already expected to move to the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), which is designed to offer local allies such as interpreters priority relocation to the UK.

Government figures showed 2,000 have already arrived under the ARAP programme.

Since Saturday, officials said 520 British nationals, diplomats and former Afghan staff have left Afghanistan on UK military flights.

A flight carrying evacuated British nationals and Afghans landed at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire at about 11pm on Tuesday night.

It comes after the Ministry of Defence said the first flight of British nationals and embassy staff arrived at the base on Sunday night.

Meanwhile, claims from the Taliban that it would respect human rights and uphold the rights of women and girls “within the framework of Sharia” law have so far been treated with scepticism.

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