Johnson acknowledges hundreds of Afghans yet to be evacuated as he faces MPs

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to Merville Barracks in Colchester, Essex (PA) (PA Wire)
19:21pm, Mon 06 Sep 2021
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Boris Johnson has insisted he will do “everything possible” to help people flee the Taliban, while acknowledging hundreds of Afghans who assisted the UK remain in the country.

The Prime Minister confirmed that 311 people entitled to resettlement under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) are still in Afghanistan

He added the Government would also respond to emails from MPs asking for assistance by close of play on Monday, amid concerns that thousands of messages went unread during the crisis.

Conservative former prime minister Theresa May later voiced fears over the increased terror threat from Afghanistan following the withdrawal of Nato troops.

Mr Johnson said the UK has “no direct information as yet of any increase to the threat” but pledged to make “every effort” to keep the UK safe.

Both the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab have been criticised over the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and their response since the Taliban takeover.

More than 8,000 former Afghan staff and their family members were among the 15,000-plus people evacuated by the UK since August 13.

But up to 1,100 Afghans deemed eligible, including those who worked with Britain and other vulnerable people, were estimated to have been left behind, though that figure will fall short of the true number the UK would wish to help.

Making a statement to the Commons, Mr Johnson said: “Let me say to anyone who we’ve made commitments to and who is currently in Afghanistan – we are working urgently with our friends in the region to secure safe passage and as soon as routes are available we will do everything possible to help you to reach safety.”

Mr Johnson confirmed an additional £5 million to help military charities offering support on mental health issues to veterans and thanked personnel for their service during the 20-year campaign and the evacuation effort, known as Operation Pitting.

On security, the Prime Minister told MPs: “If the new regime in Kabul want international recognition and access to the billions of dollars currently frozen in overseas accounts then we and our friends will hold them to their agreement to prevent Afghanistan from ever again becoming an incubator for terrorism, and we shall insist on safe passage for anyone who wishes to leave, and respect for the rights of women and girls.”

The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, asked the Prime Minister for details of how many candidates for the Arap scheme remained in the country.

The Prime Minister replied: “As for the question of how many Arap candidates are remaining I can tell him that the total number is 311, of which 192 responded to the calls that were put out and, I repeat, we will do absolutely everything we can to ensure that those people get the safe passage that they deserve using the levers that I have described.”

Mr Johnson also said he was happy to meet with devolved administrations to collaborate on Afghan resettlements in a “four-nations summit” suggested by Mr Blackford, and committed to answering all emails from MPs calling for assistance with evacuating Afghans.

The Prime Minister said: “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.”

Does (he) agree that as a result of Nato forces withdrawing from Afghanistan the terrorist threat has increased, and will he confirm that all those involved in counter-terrorism work here in the UK will be given the necessary support to ensure they can keep us safe?

Mrs May later asked: “Does (he) agree that as a result of Nato forces withdrawing from Afghanistan the terrorist threat has increased, and will he confirm that all those involved in counter-terrorism work here in the UK will be given the necessary support to ensure they can keep us safe?”

Mr Johnson replied: “We have no direct information as yet of any increase to the threat but I can assure her and the House that every effort will be made to make sure that our counter-terrorist agents have the resources they need to keep us safe.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for British troops to receive a medal for their “remarkable” efforts via Operation Pitting to evacuate thousands of people from Afghanistan.

He also said UK forces were “let down” by the political leadership of the country, noting: “We are proud of all those who contributed.

“Their story made even more remarkable by the fact that whilst they were saving lives, our political leadership was missing in action.”

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