The UK has a proud history of offering sanctuary to those in need – we cannot turn our back on that

·3-min read

Right now, hundreds of thousands of Afghans are fleeing for their lives.

We have all seen the pictures of men, women and children crammed into a cargo plane, or even clinging to the bottom of one. We have heard shocking reports of people being stopped and beaten by the Taliban as they try to reach Kabul airport. We share the fear of Afghan women and girls, whose fundamental rights and very futures are now in jeopardy.

They know the brutality of the Taliban. Between their softer progressive tones, you can hear them sharpening their knives. Afghan people know they only have hours or days to escape it. And we know that they need our help.

The UK has always felt an obligation to help desperate refugees, no matter where they come from. But we also feel a special extra obligation to the Afghan people, who have worked so hard with us to rebuild their country over the past 20 years, and who are fleeing now as a direct result of the withdrawal of Nato forces, including the UK.

And yet, the Conservative government’s response falls well short of meeting that obligation. Boris Johnson’s promise to resettle just 5,000 Afghan refugees during the next 12 months – less than eight people per constituency – simply does not match the scale of the emergency we face. Not when the UN says more than 550,000 Afghans have already been forced to flee their homes this year. Not when the Taliban is knocking on doors right now and making lists of those they plan to kill.

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding before our eyes, and it is far too big and far too urgent for our government’s slow and small resettlement plans.

The Liberal Democrats have called for an immediate commitment to bring at least 20,000 Afghan refugees to sanctuary in the UK as quickly as possible, including a specific scheme for the women and girls most at risk from Taliban persecution. Twenty thousand should be the starting point, not – as the prime minister now says – a possible endpoint that we may or may not reach several years from now.

That's why we absolutely support The Independent's call for a more ambitious resettlement pledge.

But a more ambitious resettlement programme cannot be the whole solution. Even if the UK were to step up and resettle at least 20,000 refugees, and other countries making similar commitments, there will still be tens of thousands of Afghan refugees left behind, trying desperately to find another way to get their families to safety.

They will flee the Taliban any way they can. Many speak English, many have worked bravely with British troops, many have family already in the UK. So some will naturally seek sanctuary here. Some will feel they have no choice but to pay smugglers to get them out of danger, others will inevitably fall into the hands of traffickers looking to profit from their misery.

We must show these refugees the same compassion and offer them the same protection as those we resettle. However, Priti Patel’s new anti-refugee bill, the Nationality and Borders Bill, would turn our backs on those people – as well as others like them fleeing conflicts and persecution in other countries – and refuse to even consider their claims for asylum. It would trap them in limbo for many months, denying them a chance to rebuild their lives with dignity and to contribute to our society. That is just plain wrong.

I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues voted against the home secretary’s cruel plans last month, but the Conservatives are pushing ahead with them. The plight of Afghan refugees must surely force them to think again and scrap the bill.

The UK has a proud history of offering sanctuary to those in need. The government must not turn its back on them now.

Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for foreign affairs and international development and the party’s MP for Oxford West and Abingdon

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting