The crisis that has engulfed Afghanistan since the fall of Kabul has transformed a long-running military conflict into a human tragedy of epic and tragic proportions.
Thousands of innocent civilians have been displaced. Many have been killed or tortured. And now we are witnessing the terrible scenes at Kabul airport as terrified Afghan people scramble to board planes to escape the impending reign of terror that the Taliban will impose.
The plight of those desperate refugees caught up in the crush at the airport gates has now been dealt the twin blows of murderous terror attacks and the ending of the evacuation operation by the US, UK, and other western powers.
My heartfelt sympathy is with those who have suffered death and injury because of this – both civilians and the US military personnel caught by the cowardly blasts inflicted by terrorists. My thoughts are with their families and loved ones and with the many who suffered life-changing injuries in the explosions.
My thoughts are also with the thousands of people – Afghans and other nationalities – who have been left behind following the ending of the evacuation operation. Many now face imprisonment, torture, and possible death at the hands of the Taliban.
Many have been forced to go into hiding and can only hope and wait for a miracle to get them to a place of safety. They have been abandoned.
How can it have come to this?
The Conservative government have rightly pointed to the scale of the evacuation and its unprecedented nature. That is largely down to the hard work by the brave British military personnel and Foreign Office staff on the ground. They have worked tirelessly and with great professionalism to deal with the crisis at Kabul airport. But we must ask why were there were no plans in place to get British nationals and vulnerable Afghan nationals out of the country in the event of a Taliban victory?
The US withdrawal had been announced months ago. Bagram airbase was closed by the US in the middle of the night two months ago. The Taliban had secured control over most of Afghanistan by the 6 August the fall of Kabul should have been no surprise and should have been planned for in advance.
I believe that this is a spectacular failure by the US, the UK, and other western governments to plan for a scenario that they knew had every chance of materialising.
They had a responsibility for planning to ensure that every Afghan and their family who was vulnerable to Taliban vengeance, should have been processed and evacuated in a systematic and orderly operation that could easily have been set in motion well in advance of the fall of Kabul.
And that is what I mean when I say that despite the very welcome cross-party efforts by MPs to save people and despite the enormous effort expended by our service men and women and officials in the emergency evacuation, the British government – along with its other western counterparts – must be held accountable for the abandonment of so many people who have been left behind.
And that is why I will support efforts by all my parliamentary colleagues from all parties to continue to try and secure safe passage from those left behind, to expand the eligibility criteria of the ARAP re-settlement programme, to push for the UK to welcome far more Afghan refugees than the proposed 20,000 over five years, and to ensure that any refugee who reaches Britain’s shores is not discriminated against based on how they got here. My message is clear: Afghan refugees are welcome here.
The US and British governments led the invasion of Afghanistan back in 2001. Their forces have occupied the country for 20 years. In those years they have relied on the help and support of countless Afghan civilians, soldiers, government officials, police, and security personnel. They have opened civil society and education to women and girls who have made enormous sacrifices to improve the rights and status of women in the country. All these people are now potential victims of Taliban repression. All of them are owed more than a debt of gratitude by our government. They are owed the right to be re-settled for their own safety. Our government must ensure that the door is kept open to all of them.
In my own constituency, I have been touched by the generosity of the people of Birkenhead who have contacted me to offer their homes to refugees, who have begun the work of preparing to welcome refugees and are now stockpiling good to meet the basic needs of those who arrive in our town. The Government needs to match the generosity of the people of my constituency by action to support all refugees.
Finally, as well as sending my profound thanks and admiration to the service personnel and government officials in Kabul who have worked tirelessly to save lives, I am immensely grateful to the efforts that my own staff and the staff of other MPs have made in recent weeks. They have worked incredibly hard in trying to support Afghans living here and in pursuing every possible opportunity to get their stranded loved ones and family members to places of safety.
I pledge to continue this work and to do everything in my power to support those whose lives have been so terribly affected by the current situation on the ground in Afghanistan.
Mick Whitley, MP for Birkenhead, 27 August 2021
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