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Councils must be given the funding they need to support Afghan refugees

Councils must be given the funding they need to support Afghan refugees
4 min read

We have a responsibility to provide asylum to anyone trying to escape Afghanistan, but local authorities will need more funding from the government to ensure that they don’t collapse under new pressures.

We have all seen the terrifying images surfacing from Kabul airport. Men, women, and children, fleeing for their lives and from a future under The Taliban regime. We have seen the sheer desperation of people clinging onto moving planes because they simply cannot see a better alternative. 

This is the result of decisions taken by President Biden, the UK government, and other NATO allies. Our leaders should hang their heads in shame.

As these consequences unfolded at speed, our Foreign Secretary was on a beach in Crete, shirking his duties not just to the people of Afghanistan but also to the national security of the UK. All Dominic Raab had to do was pick up the phone. Instead, he tried to palm it off onto a junior minister, knowing full well that Hanif Atmar, the Afghan foreign minister, would only speak to his direct counterpart on matters of such importance.

By choosing paddle ball and a sun bed on the beach over his responsibilities, Raab has doomed the lives of thousands trying to flee a crisis that he himself contributed to. 

One particular group within this was the Afghan interpreters, people who have heroically risked their lives translating for UK Armed Forces over the past twenty years.

The Highlands are keen to extend a helping hand, but the government must provide the grip

For years now, myself and others from across the House of Commons have been calling for a visa scheme for these people. Earlier this year, I urged the government to implement this visa scheme as soon as possible, so as to avoid another “Saigon moment” in Afghanistan. But the moment came and went, and another Saigon moment unfolded before our very eyes. 

We have a responsibility to provide asylum and refuge to anyone trying to escape Afghanistan right now. At the same time, we owe the interpreters a particular debt of honour for the work they did to keep our troops safe all the while risking their own lives. And this is how we repay them? A lifesaving phone call greeted by nothing but Dominic Raab’s voicemail. 

We must now look forward. Tragic and fateful mistakes have been made, but how do we as a country come together to help these people? It took no time at all for the Highland Council in my constituency and myself to start discussions on how to go about providing asylum for a new wave of refugees. There was no conversation of “should we?” but instead a mutual assumption that “we must!”. 

Since the fall of Kabul, I have had more constituents email me about a single political event than I can recall in recent times. Each one asking me to use my position to “support Afghan refugees”, to “secure Kabul airport”, and many alerting me to the issue of veterinary charities, such as NOWZAD, stuck in the country. It is in moments like these where I am immensely proud of the constituents I represent. 

The Highlands wants to help. And having sat in the Chamber for more than 6 hours on Wednesday, I can tell we’re not the only ones. MPs from across the House, from all parties, from all corners of the United Kingdom, were urging the government to get their act together to help people get out of Afghanistan and grant them asylum here at home. 

But we can’t do it alone. Local authorities and councils will need more funding from the government, and in my case both the Scottish and the UK governments, to ensure that they don’t collapse under new pressures. The lives of thousands of refugees cannot be left to "us" or "them" - it is all of our responsibilities. The Highlands are keen to extend a helping hand, but the government must provide the grip.

 

Jamie Stone is the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross and is the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Defence. 

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