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Afghan Woman Who Fled The Taliban Has Accused Government Of Abandoning Those Left Behind

5 min read

A woman airlifted out of Afghanistan with her family said the government has abandoned its responsibility to those left behind and must urgently step up efforts to get more people to the UK.

Peymana Assad, who is a Labour councillor in Harrow and the first elected official of Afghan origin in the UK, was evacuated with a family member in August after she visited the country to see relatives.

Now that she and some of her family have been flown to safety, they are preparing for long-term exile due to their opposition to the Taliban. She told PoliticsHome her heart is broken at the prospect of not being able to say goodbye to relatives still living there. 

“We need the UK government to step up. Right now the UK Government has abandoned its responsibility,” she said. 

British government advice is currently that Afghans can apply for visas if they reach third countries, but Assad said getting to another location is extremely difficult. She also fears the majority of interpreters were not evacuated and their families remain in the country. 

A blanket email from the FCDO seen by PoliticsHome said Afghan nationals including family members of British nationals, who do not already have a right to enter the UK, will need to apply for a visa. This will need to be done in a Visa Application Centre in a third country. 

“I mean, the thing that's shocking to me is the FCDO emailing out and saying that anybody who wants to come through a third country should apply for a visa. I mean, it’s already hard enough for people from the global south to get a visa to the UK. And I don’t think Afghans are going to be given that visa so easily,” Assad said.

She also criticised Foreign Secretary Liz Truss for not speaking out more on the rights of girls to an education in the country, and for the UK government not considering the financial leverage that might be possible by releasing some of the frozen Afghan Central Bank Reserves.

Assad said money could be given to the country’s leaders if they made certain commitments on female education. 

“There are people who are already starving in Afghanistan because of no salaries and no cash. If the Tabliban prove through action the reinstatement of girls in school above Grade 6 and women into work – with us witnessing this on the ground from reports by locals – then Afghan central bank funds could be released in an organised manner," she said. 

“There are creative ways this can be done so that the funds are not used by the Haqqani network,” she said. 

“The UN could monitor the distribution of the money.”

Shadow secretary of state for international development, Preet Gill, said Councillor Assad had been a vocal advocate for thousands of people still trying to leave Afghanistan and her own escape from the Taliban had been very moving. 

Gill criticised the government's decision to reduce the overseas aid budget "knowing full well that troops would be leaving, knowing full well that people needed access to humanitarian aid and assistance.

"So this is really retreating. It’s signalling a very wrong message by this government in terms of even when we know that there are going to be crises, we can't rely on this government to really step up," she said.

A spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, said: “We are working with our international partners to use every diplomatic lever to safeguard human rights and the gains made over the last two decades, in particular those for women and girls. We have made clear that the Taliban will be judged by their deeds and not their words.

“The UK has doubled aid to Afghanistan this year to ensure the most vulnerable receive the humanitarian assistance they need and we continue to do all we can to secure safe passage to enable British nationals and eligible Afghans to leave the country and come to the UK.”

The government is still helping British nationals in Afghanistan who are eligible to come to the UK, and are currently dealing with 230,000 emails from people seeking help. 

They have said those entitled to come to the UK who are in third countries can get assistance there. Since Operation Pitting came to an end, 60 British nationals and their dependents have left Kabul on Qatari flights. 

The total aid given to Afghanistan is £286 million, which includes £30 million to neighbouring countries. 

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