Raab calls for international support to help at-risk Afghans escape the Taliban

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The UK hopes international alliances can be formed to exert a “moderating influence” on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and secure safe passage for people seeking to escape.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab set out the UK’s aims at a meeting with counterparts from countries including the US, France and Germany.

The talks came on a day of international diplomacy as world powers discussed how to respond to the new administration in Kabul.

Mr Raab’s intervention came at a US-convened meeting for the G7 group of industrialised democracies – the UK, US, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy – along with representatives from the EU, Turkey, Qatar and the Nato alliance.

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A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The Foreign Secretary emphasised the importance of working with like-minded partners on safe passage and exit arrangements for eligible Afghans remaining in the country.”

The Taliban has given assurances that foreign nationals and Afghan citizens with travel authorisation will be allowed to leave, but Mr Raab stressed that “we must judge them on their actions”.

The Foreign Secretary said the strategic priorities were to prevent Afghanistan again becoming a haven for terrorism, to ensure humanitarian access, protect the human rights gains of the last 20 years and preserve regional stability,

The Foreign Office said he also highlighted the need to work “with a range of international partners in order to exercise the maximum moderating influence on the Taliban”.

Meanwhile, the UK’s UN ambassador Dame Barbara Woodward will discuss the situation with her counterparts from the four other permanent member countries of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, and the US.

The UK hopes the influence Russia and China could have over the new Afghan government could be key to countering terrorism and the trade in narcotics, preventing a refugee crisis and further economic collapse.

The focus on ensuring safe passage for eligible Afghans comes with uncertainty about how many might seek to reach the UK and how they can hope to make the journey following the end of the airlift.

Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly said it was impossible to estimate how many people eligible to come to the UK had been left behind after evacuation flights finished.

Around 15,000 people had been evacuated from Afghanistan in a “herculean” effort, Mr Cleverly said, but Labour has claimed around 5,000 may have been left behind and ministers have faced criticism over the UK response.

Mr Cleverly acknowledged some emails about desperate Afghans seeking to leave may not have been read in the Foreign Office as priority in the evacuation effort was given to people who could be processed and reached Kabul airport before the airlift ended.

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James Cleverly (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Cleverly told the BBC the Government was “quite sceptical” about the commitments the new Kabul regime had made to allowing safe passage.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that if the Kabul regime wants diplomatic recognition – and the unlocking of frozen assets – it must allow safe passage for people wishing to leave, prevent Afghanistan again becoming a base for international terrorists, and respect the rights of women and girls.

Mr Cleverly said: “They have said that they want to be treated like a legitimate government. And there’s a long way to go before we might consider that,”

The “vast, vast bulk” of British nationals had left Afghanistan, he told Sky News, but there were also eligible people under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) scheme – for people who helped UK forces – and others who could be under threat from the Taliban.

UK military personnel arrive home from Afghanistan
UK military personnel arrive home from Afghanistan (SAC Samantha Holden RAF/PA)

Asked if he had unread emails about Afghans seeking to leave the country in his inbox, Mr Cleverly told the BBC: “I suspect everybody has.”

The Government had received a “huge number of emails directly from Afghanistan and from third parties” after announcing it would help Afghans at risk of reprisals from the Taliban.

“We have been and will continue to work through the significant number of emails that we have received to try to get as many other people out of Afghanistan as possible.”

Shadow foreign office minister Stephen Kinnock accused the Government of an “unforgivable” failure to evacuate thousands of eligible Afghans.

In a reference to the Foreign Secretary’s Crete holiday, Mr Kinnock told the BBC that “whilst Dominic Raab was on the sun lounger he should have been speaking with his counterparts in Pakistan and the other neighbouring countries” about securing overland routes out of Afghanistan.

With the deadline for the final withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan on Tuesday, violence continued in Kabul.

Rocket fire apparently targeting Kabul’s international airport struck a nearby neighbourhood on Monday but US military C-17 transport planes continued the withdrawal effort as 20 years of Western military presence drew to a close.

The so-called Islamic State group’s offshoot in Afghanistan, Isis-K, claimed responsibility, saying it fired at least six rockets at the airport.

The US military said five rockets targeted the airport on Monday morning but were intercepted.

On Sunday, a US drone strike blew up a vehicle carrying IS suicide bombers before they could attack the military evacuation at Kabul’s airport, American officials said. Reports suggested at least 10 civilians, including children, were among the dead.

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