Boris Johnson Says The UK Is “Working Urgently” To Get People Out Of Afghanistan
Boris Johnson gave a statement to the Commons on the crisis in Afghanistan (Alamy)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he “will do everything possible" to help the people the UK failed to evacuate from Afghanistan escape the Taliban.
Johnson gave a statement to the Commons as MPs returned from summer recess to address the crisis after the removal of Western troops led to the collapse of the government in Kabul.
Britain airlifted several thousand people to safety in a military operation but ministers have admitted hundreds of people who were eligible to come here did not make it out.
After criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis Johnson told MPs they were still trying to help those left behind.
“Anyone who we've made commitments and who is currently in Afghanistan – we are working urgently with our friends in the region to secure safe passage,” he said.
“As soon as routes are available, we will do everything possible to help you to reach safety.”
The PM confirmed the 20,000 Afghans allowed to come to the UK over the coming years as part of a new separate resettlement programme will be given indefinite leave to remain. as well as free English courses for adults and 300 University scholarships.
“We are upholding Britain's finest tradition of welcoming those in need, and I emphasise that under this scheme we will of course work with the UN and aid agencies to identify those we should help, as we have done in respect of those who fled the war in Syria,” he told Parliament.
“But we will also include Afghans who have contributed to civil society, or who face a particular risk from the Taliban, for example because of their role in standing up for democracy and human rights, or because of their gender, or sexuality, or religion.”
He also told the Taliban they would not let them access funds if they do not prevent terror groups from using the country as a base, saying “our first duty is to the security of the United Kingdom”.
Johnson added: “If the new regime in Kabul wants 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 should insist on safe passage for anyone who wishes to leave, and respect for the rights of women and girls.”
The PM finished his statement with a robust defence of the UK’s involvement in the country: “If anyone is tempted to say that we have achieved nothing in that country in 20 years, tell them that our armed forces and those of our allies enabled 3.6 million girls to go to school.
“Tell them that this country and the Western world were protected from Al Qaida in Afghanistan, throughout that period, and tell them that we have just mounted the biggest humanitarian airlift in recent history.”
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer criticised the handling of the Afghanistan crisis, telling MPs: "Because of this lack of leadership, the government has left many behind to whom we owe so much."
He added: "The government doesn't even know how many UK nationals and Afghan nationals eligible under the Arap scheme have been left behind to the cruelty of the Taliban.
“A national disgrace."
Starmer praised the efforts of British troops in the evacuation, calling for them to receive a medal for their "remarkable" efforts via Operation Pitting.
But he said they were "let down" by the political leadership of the country: "The Prime Minister underestimated the strength of the Taliban.
“Despite intelligence warnings that rapid Taliban advances could lead to the collapse of the Afghan security forces, a return to power of the Taliban and our embassy shutting down amid reduced security – the government continued to act on the assumption that there was no path to military victory for the Taliban.
"Complacent and wrong."
Starmer concluded with further praise for troops, adding: "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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