UK to take 'thousands of Afghan refugees' fleeing the Taliban

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TOPSHOT - Afghan passengers sit as they wait to leave the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city's airport trying to flee the group's feared hardline brand of Islamist rule. (Photo by Wakil Kohsar / AFP) (Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)
Afghan passengers sit as they wait to leave Kabul airport amid total chaos in the Afghan capital. (Photo by Wakil Kohsar / AFP) (Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)

The UK is reportedly preparing to take thousands of refugees fleeing Afghanistan.

According to The Times, Priti Patel is drawing up plans that would see those escaping the new Taliban regime granted direct safe passage from Afghanistan to the UK. The scheme would be separate to the existing asylum system.

Under the existing Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, the UK has relocated almost 3,000 Afghans who worked for the UK government since 2014.

On 4 August, the government said it was committed to relocate a further 500 families, or 2,500 people, as soon as possible.

Watch: British nationals evacuated from Afghanistan arrived in UK

It also said that the scheme would remain open indefinitely thereafter for all those who qualify and that there would be no quota or cap on total numbers.

However, there have been concerns as to whether the UK is prepared to relocate Afghans who were employed by a contractor rather than by the government directly.

The reports come after the Home Office denied reports it would not welcome Afghans because it could “send the wrong message to other refugees”.

Reports at the weekend claimed senior military officials had said the government department was reluctant to give asylum to those from Afghanistan because of how it could be perceived by other refugees.

A Hercules C-130 Plane takes off at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. British troops are racing against the clock to get remaining UK nationals and their local allies out of Afghanistan following the dramatic fall of the country's Western-backed government to the Taliban. Picture date: Monday August 16, 2021.
A Hercules C-130 Plane takes off at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. British troops are racing against the clock to get remaining UK nationals and their local allies out of Afghanistan following the dramatic fall of the country's Western-backed government (PA)

It comes as the country has fallen to the Taliban, prompting expectations that hundreds of thousands will flee the country.

But in a tweet on Tuesday, the Home Office refuted the claims, calling them "categorically incorrect".

“The Home Secretary @pritipatel spoke only on Friday about the huge amount of work being undertaken to bring people safely to the United Kingdom," it said.

Priti Patel said on Friday an "enormous resettlement programme" to relocate British nationals and Afghan nationals who have helped the UK government, was a "priority".

She added: “What we are witnessing in Afghanistan right now is absolutely unprecedented.”

The latest development comes as several Tory MPs criticise the government for its handling of the crisis.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN-AUGUST 16: Taliban members are seen near Hamid Karzai International Airport as thousands of Afghans rush to flee the Afghan capital of Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 16, 2021. (Photo by Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Taliban members are seen near Hamid Karzai International Airport as thousands of Afghans rush to flee the Afghan capital of Kabul (Getty)

John Baron, Tory MP for Basildon and Billericay, has called for Boris Johnson to apologise to veterans and families who lost loved ones.

Former defence minister Tobias Ellwood, the Tory MP for Bournemouth East, described chaotic scenes at Kabul airport as "Saigon 2.0", referencing evacuations in 1975 as the North Vietnamese army captured the city and ended the Vietnam War.

Watch: How did the UK's involvment in Afghanistan begin?

In a tweet, he said: "Is this how we thought we'd depart Afghanistan? I repeat my call for a UK inquiry."

Nus Ghani, Conservative MP for Wealden, told the BBC: "In one fell swoop we've taken the country back 20 years."

Crossbench peer and former cabinet secretary Lord Sedwill warned this was "a humiliating moment for the West".

Meanwhile, Graham Knight, father of 25-year-old RAF Sergeant Ben Knight, who was killed when his Nimrod aircraft exploded in Afghanistan in 2006, said: "As for whether people's lives were lost through a war that wasn't winnable, I think they were."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said there was an "obligation" to those in Afghanistan who had helped the UK effort.

Humvee vehicles from the Afghan Security Forces are pictured in Panjshir province in Afghanistan on August 16, 2021. (Photo by Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD SAHEL ARMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Humvee vehicles from the Afghan Security Forces are pictured in Panjshir province in Afghanistan on August 16, 2021 (Getty)

Speaking on a trip to Wolverhampton, he said: "We need to get UK nationals out, but we also have an obligation to all of those Afghans who helped and assisted the UK, and we shouldn't have nice distinctions between this type of person, this type of help, and that type of help.

"If those in Afghan have helped us, the UK, in our work in Afghanistan, we have got an obligation to them."

However, No 10 defended the Government's position.

The PM's spokesman said: "I think it was clear that military intervention alone was not going to be sufficient. We have seen the Taliban move quickly across Afghanistan, that is true, but we have been monitoring the situation, and are continuing to do everything possible to secure UK and Afghan nationals."

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - AUGUST 16: Afghans crowd at the tarmac of the Kabul airport on August 16, 2021, to flee the country as the Taliban were in control of Afghanistan after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. (Photo by Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Afghans crowd at the tarmac of the Kabul airport to flee the country (Getty)

He said: "Clearly, once the US decision was made (to withdraw troops), our view was that it would not be right to act unilaterally in this as an occupying force.

"We did speak to other international partners on this, but it was clear that that wasn't going to be feasible. So we have focused on doing everything possible to enable... to work with the previous Afghan government and to now facilitate the exit of UK nationals and Afghan nationals."

He said: "We want to obviously continue to do this as long as we are able to do so and as long as it is safe to do so. You'll appreciate the US have said that they will be leaving at the end of the month so we will keep that under review and we'll continue to do it as long as we can do so because we want to get as many people out as we can."

Watch: UN Security Council told of targeted killings of civilians after Taliban sweeps to power

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