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Afghan refugees are still being failed by the UK government

Anti Taliban protest in Trafalgar Square | Alamy

3 min read

After failing to evacuate all the Afghan refugees to whom we owed a debt, the UK government now threatens to throw former allies into rough sleeping on our streets

It’s one year since the UK capitulated to the Taliban and fled Afghanistan but the government is still failing Afghans today. 

Last August, the Prime Minister was – true to form – holidaying. The then foreign secretary was away in Crete paddleboarding (when the sea was not “closed”). The Permanent Secretary now regrets holidaying and refusing to return during the international crisis.

Some on the hard Left sickeningly suggested “reparations” for the Taliban following their return to brutalising their own people. This ignores Afghans’ unfettered celebrations when the Taliban were overthrown – with the music and dancing which they had previously banned. The UK entered Afghanistan as part of an international force, with UN legitimacy. The UK was invited to stay to train police and army recruits, provide humanitarian assistance and help build the nascent democracy. The UK should be proud of time spent enhancing human rights, like access to education for girls and healthcare. 

If looking for failures in Afghanistan before last year, then opium is the most glaringly obvious. Over 90 per cent of the heroin on UK streets is from Afghanistan and two decades’ involvement should have decimated this deadly trade. We should also have helped build alternative jobs, for example helping generate income and sustainable long-term work for Afghans in engineering by mining its lithium reserves. Since the US and UK departed, China has jumped in to take the lithium and provide the Taliban with funding whilst the Afghan people starve.

Perhaps the biggest policy failure was to inadequately equipping Afghan forces to repel the Taliban. The lack of air power alone was a critical reason for the rapid collapse. 

But the failures inside Afghanistan, are nothing compared to the abject misery of its people again now, with rights rescinded, arbitrary “justice”, widespread famine and unstable, totalitarian leadership.

Constituents have seen family members… trapped without documents whilst the Home Office refuses to intervene

My own constituency has strong Afghan connections. I attended a local Nowruz festival, the Afghan new year celebration, in Southwark and met former women MPs from Afghanistan understandably traumatised at the sudden abandonment of their country.

I have recently been trying to help get the former commander of Kabul out of Afghanistan. He is in a safe second country now, en route to reuniting with his family. But other constituents have seen family members murdered by the Taliban or trapped without documents whilst the Home Office refuses to intervene. I also have Afghan constituents prevented from working in the UK due to hideous Home Office delays. One man waited 11 months for his residence permit, having to turn down multiple job offers whilst waiting for the paperwork to arrive. No other government department is such a gift to criminal entities seeking to recruit people into the illegal economy. 

The Home Office is also threatening to make Afghans in Southwark homeless if they refuse to accept accommodation out of London, despite working here. Another couple were told the Home Office would end its responsibility to provide accommodation if they declined a move into a flat costing more than their combined income.

The UK government failed to plan to leave Afghanistan, failed to evacuate all those we owed a debt, and now threatens to throw former allies into rough sleeping on our streets. 

Neil Coyle is Independent MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark and a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee

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