Thousands of emails ignored 'so PM could pretend desperate Afghans were getting UK help'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference, at 10 Downing Street, in London, on the government's coronavirus action plan.
A whistleblower has said emails from desperate Afghans during the Taliban's takeover of Kabul were opened but left unread. (PA)

Thousands of emails from desperate Afghans trying to flee the Taliban were opened by officials then ignored so that the government could say they were leaving no messages unread, a whistleblower has claimed.

Raphael Marshall, who worked at the foreign office during the widely criticised evacuation from Kabul, made the claim in a damning statement, outlining the government's alleged failure to save the lives of Afghans asking for help.

Marshall's evidence described shocking scenes at the heart of the foreign office during the evacuation, claiming there were regularly 5,000 unread emails from Afghans trying to flee the country, some with heartbreaking subject lines such as "please save my children".

Watch: Thirteen Britons among hundreds allowed to leave Kabul on first international flight

Read more: Which countries have evacuated the most people from Afghanistan?

The former desk officer also claimed that junior civil servants were left to make life or death decisions, and just 5% of the 150,000 Afghan nationals who applied for help fleeing received assistance.

"It is clear that some of those left behind have been since murdered by the Taliban," Marshall said.

Many of those claiming asylum were at high risk of being tortured or killed by the Taliban for supporting or coordinating with British and US forces during the war.

The government has defended its handling of the crisis, saying that it evacuated more than 15,000 people in the days around the height of the crisis.

In his evidence, Marshall claims that emails received an automatic response that the request for assistance had been ‘logged’. He said this "usually false", adding: "In thousands of cases emails were not even read."

He said he believes this system was used to enable the prime minister to state in the House of Commons that no email had been left unread.

On 6 September, at the height of the crisis, Johnson told MPs: "By close of play today, every single one of the emails from colleagues around this House will be answered and thousands have already been done.”

UK coalition forces, Turkish coalition forces, and U.S. Marines assist a child during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 20. U.S. service members are assisting the Department of State with a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) in Afghanistan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla via Sipa USA) Please note: Fees charged by the agency are for the agency�s services only, and do not, nor are they intended to, convey to the user any ownership of Copyright or License in the material. The agency does not claim any ownership including but not limited to Copyright or License in the attached material. By publishing this material you expressly agree to indemnify and to hold the agency and its directors, shareholders and employees harmless from any loss, claims, damages, demands, expenses (including legal fees), or any causes of action or allegation against the agency arising out of or connected in any way with publication of the material.
The whistleblower claims just 5% of the 150,000 eligible Afghans were evacuated before British troops withdrew from Afghanistan. (PA Images)

Read more: 'Absurd': Dominic Raab refuses 11 times to reveal holiday dates as tensions boil over fall of Afghanistan

The revelations are part of Marshall's 39-page dossier published on Tuesday ahead of a meeting of the foreign affairs select committee in parliament.

On Tuesday, the prime minister's spokesperson said: "The prime minister's priority was evacuating as many people as possible, that is the instructions he gave - which is why we evacuated 15,000 over that two-week period."

Dominic Raab, who was foreign secretary at the time of the evacuation, responded to claims he created unnecessary delays by demanding that cases of Afghans trying to flee put in front of him were reformatted.

He said he would make “no apology” for attempting to obtain the “clear facts” on Afghan refugee claims.

Raab said asylum claims were on a "well-presented table", amid allegations that it took "several hours" for the foreign office to engage with some.

“In terms of presentation, of course, with the volume of claims coming in, I make no apology for saying I needed the clear facts for each case presented precisely so that we could make swift decisions," the now deputy prime minister and justice secretary told BBC Radio 4's Today.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab arrives in Downing Street, London, ahead of the government's weekly Cabinet meeting. Picture date: Tuesday December 7, 2021.
The now former foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, came under fire during the evacuations after it emerged he was holidaying in Crete as Kabul fell to the Taliban. (PA Images)

Read more: ‘She died right in my arms’: Witness says little girl was victim of Kabul terror attacks

“You can’t just have emails coming through and examining them one by one, they need to be collated, the key facts drawn out, and, of course, they need to be verified, which is why what London was doing was inextricably linked with the challenges of gleaning information on the ground with the Taliban takeover in relation to Afghanistan.”

Raab, who came under fire for holidaying in Crete as Kabul fell to the Taliban, also said more broadly he did not accept Marshall's description of the scenes in the foreign office during the evacuations earlier this year.

“I don’t accept that characterisation [of events in Marshall's report]," Raab told Sky News.

"I regularly checked that we were properly resourced.

"But the challenge of course with all of these things was the verification of the facts on the ground.”

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He defended the UK's process, and said it was "right" there was a check for those "at genuine risk of persecution".

"But what is certainly true is that we had a lot of people rushing to get out of Afghanistan for all sorts of reasons," he said.

“And I think it’s right that we had a process in place to check two things: One, that we were helping those at genuine risk of persecution, or British nationals or people who had worked for the British Government.

“And secondly, making sure that we didn’t allow anyone to come into the UK who might present a threat to the UK."

Watch: Raab questioned on handling of Afghanistan evacuation