15 August 2023

Ministers urged not to ‘abandon’ Afghans on anniversary of Taliban takeover

15 August 2023

Aid organisations have urged the UK not to “abandon” Afghanistan as Western allies mark two years since the Taliban retook Kabul.

The Taliban, in a lightning offensive across the country, returned to power in Afghanistan on August 15 2021 as Western forces, including Britain and the US, hurriedly made their withdrawal after a 20-year occupation.

Operation Pitting was the largest evacuation effort Britain has been involved in since the Second World War, with more than 15,000 people taken from Afghanistan to the UK in just over 16 days in August 2021.

Bond, an umbrella body in the UK representing international development organisations, said the Afghan people had been living “in a waking nightmare” since the return of the fundamentalist Taliban regime.

Our support cannot end because troops left

The organisation said more than 80% of the population in the central Asian country is living below the poverty line “as the economy continues to contract, jobs vanish and government services crumble”.

Gideon Rabinowitz, Bond’s policy and advocacy director, said: “Families have been plunged into poverty, malnutrition threatens over a million children as food insecurity engulfs the country, and the dreams of millions of women and girls have been shattered as they endure tight restrictions on their freedoms.

“The UK and the international community must not abandon Afghanistan. Our support cannot end because troops left.

“We urge the UK Government to stay engaged via civil groups on the ground and diplomatic pragmatism while maintaining its commitments to promised UK aid funding and refugee resettlement.”

With millions of Afghans fleeing harsh Taliban rule, a cross-party group of MPs have urged Conservative ministers to tackle the “slow” delivery of its resettlement and assistance programmes.

Afghans have been the most common nationality to arrive on small boats crossing the English Channel in the first half of this year, according to the latest provisional data from the Home Office.

Labour’s Sarah Champion, chairwoman of the Commons International Development Committee, and Conservative Sir Julian Lewis, chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, are among 10 MPs to have jointly petitioned immigration minister Robert Jenrick to improve Home Office efforts.

In a letter sent to mark the two-year anniversary, the MPs said they were “concerned with both the pace and scale” of the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme (ACRS), which they said pledged up to 20,000 places over five years.

But they said “just 281 Afghans were brought to the UK via ACRS in the year ending March 2023”.

While Afghans wait, we are concerned about the risks they face

“Not only has delivery been slow, but the remaining places simply do not match up to the number of Afghans eligible for UK protection, leaving thousands of Afghans who supported the allied efforts or have connections to the UK, trapped in the country or neighbouring countries,” the MPs said.

“While Afghans wait, we are concerned about the risks they face.”

The group of MPs, which also includes the SNP’s Patrick Grady and Green MP Caroline Lucas, called for Mr Jenrick to increase ACRS places by at least 6,500 and to open a delayed family reunion mechanism to allow those left behind after the evacuation to be “swiftly reunited with their family in the UK”.

The former diplomat Sir Laurie Bristow, who was serving as UK ambassador to Afghanistan when Kabul fell, also told The Daily Telegraph newspaper that Britain had an “obligation” to help those Afghans who had supported allied efforts in their country before the Taliban’s return.

A Government spokeswoman said the UK had made “one of the largest commitments of any country to support Afghanistan”.

We have so far welcomed over 9,113 individuals under ACRS. It will provide up to 20,000 people affected by events in Afghanistan and the region with a safe and legal route to resettle in the UK

She said: “The ACRS is one of the boldest resettlement schemes in the UK’s history and is designed to support those who have assisted UK efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for UK values, as well as vulnerable people.

“We have so far welcomed over 9,113 individuals under ACRS. It will provide up to 20,000 people affected by events in Afghanistan and the region with a safe and legal route to resettle in the UK.

“We continue to work to deliver on our commitments to the people of Afghanistan.”

To mark the two-year anniversary, there is a protest scheduled on Tuesday morning in London to demonstrate against Taliban rule.

The Afghanistan and Central Asian Association has organised a peaceful protest outside Parliament, with the gathering expected to include British Afghans in the UK, activists, students and academics.

Tobias Ellwood, the Tory chairman of the Defence Select Committee, is due to speak at an event in the evening organised by the same organisation.

The former defence minister is facing a no-confidence motion as committee chairman after publishing a video claiming that Afghanistan has improved since the Taliban regained power.

Last month, he apologised in the face of a backlash from members of his own committee after claiming that security in Afghanistan has “vastly improved” and “corruption is down” since the fundamentalists returned in 2021.

Mr Ellwood, following a visit to the war-torn nation, called for Britain to reopen its embassy in Kabul, following on from the European Union re-establishing a physical presence in the territory last year.

The veteran later deleted his video report from Helmand province, which was praised as “positive” by the Taliban, from social media and expressed regret over its recording.

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