Watching the scenes at Kabul airport over the past few days has left me with a feeling of grief and anger.
Grief for the millions of Afghan women and girls, in particular, who were promised a brighter future and the opportunity to learn, to work and to pursue their dreams. And anger that the many pledges made to the Afghan people over the past 20 years have so clearly been broken.
We’ve seen a lot of handwringing from government ministers in the past few days – at least from those who weren’t too busy on the beach to take notice of what was happening in Kabul.
But the harsh truth is that their inaction over the past few months has left thousands of Afghans in extreme danger: interpreters who worked with UK forces refused settlement because they were sub-contractors or because they’d been dismissed; local employees of UK aid-funded NGOs who are not covered by the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Programme but who will be seen as collaborators by the Taliban.
Despite warnings from UK military commanders, hundreds have had their applications for asylum rejected in recent months – some were offered asylum only to have the offer later withdrawn, with no right of appeal. That is shameful.
The government’s attitude towards Afghanistan has been characterised by complacency about the Taliban’s advances and a disregard for the safety of our Afghan friends. There is now a huge humanitarian crisis and the UK must step up and play its full part in addressing it.
To begin with, the government must work with others in the region to provide safe routes for Afghans out of the country and safe havens for them in Britain and elsewhere. The UN Refugee Agency estimates 30,000 people have been fleeing Afghanistan every week over the summer, 80 percent of them women and children – the very people the government says it wants to prioritise for asylum.
Yet under the terms of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is making its way through parliament, any Afghan woman who flees with her children and arrives in Britain by an “irregular route”, perhaps in a small boat across the Channel, won’t be welcomed or protected. She’ll be criminalised.
This bill was never fit for purpose and it must now be scrapped.
The government says it will offer some 20,000 places to refugees from Afghanistan, with just 5,000 being admitted in the first year. That completely ignores the scale and urgency of the crisis. Where are the many thousands of refugees supposed to go in the meantime?
The home secretary says it’s not possible to accommodate 20,000 “in one go”, ignoring the fact that in 1972, the-then Tory government agreed to take in 28,000 Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin in one year – a community which has since thrived, and includes Priti Patel.
The Home Office’s attitude towards asylum seekers from Afghanistan has been one of disbelief and dismissal. Until the end of last year, it was rejecting more than half the asylum applications from Afghan nationals. Many are trapped in the asylum system, undocumented or even in detention. They must now be given sanctuary and any moves to deport them must end.
It must also be made easier for families to be reunited. Only this week, I was contacted by a constituent who has asylum in the UK but whose elderly, dependent mother cannot join him. She is being left to face the Taliban alone.
This is why I am backing the call from The Independent for the government to increase the number of refugees it takes from Afghanistan.
This disaster must mark a turning point for our asylum system, where the “hostile environment” is buried once and for all and we deliver a resettlement programme we can be proud of, with humanitarianism at its heart.
Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion