Mon, 15 April 2024

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Humanitarian aid will be vital to save and protect lives in Afghanistan

4 min read

After so many catastrophic failures of judgement, the Prime Minister cannot allow the Foreign Secretary to continue in his role and must now focus on using every tool that remains at his disposal to ensure no one is left behind.

Even before the withdrawal of US troops, Afghanistan was facing a humanitarian crisis with 18.4 million people dependent on support for health care, education, clean water, and employment. 

It was, and remains, one of the poorest countries in the world with half of all Afghans living in poverty. 

An estimated 3.7 million children were out-of-school - 60 per cent of whom were girls, 2.9 million Afghans are internally displaced, and over 2 million refugees are being hosted by Pakistan and Iran. 

This year alone, a further half a million people have left their homes and the risks to women and girls has grown as the Taliban have taken control of the country. 

The cuts to aid programmes in Afghanistan were callous, short sighted and costing lives

Yesterday, Keir Starmer, stood in front of the Despatch box and gave a moving and powerful speech highlighting the complacency and incompetency of the Prime Minister and his Foreign and Development Secretary. He rightly raised the failure of government, which had 18 months to plan and prepare for the consequences of the US withdrawing their troops. That failure has let down the Afghan people and the UK nationals who worked with them.

We should be incredibly proud of the brave British men and women who served in our armed forces and those working for INGOs. Their contribution has made Afghanistan safer, more secure and provided opportunities for the Afghan people.

In any conversation you have with someone who has been in Afghanistan, they will tell you that none of their work would have been possible without those who worked alongside British nationals to build a country that they could live and thrive in.

As the evacuation of British nationals continues, these people, who are at risk of being targeted by the Taliban, are being betrayed by the Prime Minister.

My colleagues, Nick Thomas Symonds and John Healey have been working tirelessly to highlight the conservative government’s incompetence in failing to plan for the safe evacuation of those we have worked with ahead of the withdrawal. This has left huge numbers of Afghans’ lives in danger and we must immediately respond to the scale of the challenge facing us.

For those remaining in Afghanistan, it is clear that humanitarian support will be vital to save and protect lives but the government’s position on this has been incredibly confusing; from threatening to withhold aid on Monday, to a commitment to increase it by 10% on Tuesday, to return it to just under 2019 levels on Wednesday. 

It is welcome that the government have u-turned on their initial position, as the cuts to aid programmes in Afghanistan were callous, short sighted and costing lives. 

Many were tackling important issues like child trafficking, demining, women’s social and economic empowerment. It was morally reprehensible that they had been cut. 

Labour are clear that with the Taliban now running the country the risk to women and girls, is real and requires an urgent humanitarian response with clear timeline and priorities.

There must be immediate action to ensure safe passage and evacuation for those who are at risk including women rights activists, journalists and politicians.

The UK should lead efforts to work with countries neighbouring Afghanistan to ensure vital safeguarding and support is in place for Afghan refugees who have fled to those countries and to keep borders open for humanitarian assistance into the country.

We urgently need detail on how the government will deploy the increased aid the Prime Minister committed to and how the UK will work with trusted partners who are already embedded in the country to resume services as soon as it is safe to do so to deliver vital support to those who need it most.

We must use our position as president of the G7 and on the UN Security Council and work with our allies to ensure a coordinated and global humanitarian response which safeguards Afghan women and girls and protects the human rights of the people of Afghanistan, as well as guaranteeing the safety of humanitarian workers and diplomats remaining in Afghanistan.

The best of Britain is a country that stands up for our fellow human beings and keeps the promises we make, but that hard won reputation has been decimated on the global stage.

After so many catastrophic failures of judgement, the Prime Minister cannot allow the Foreign and Development Secretary to continue in his role and must now focus on using every tool that remains at his disposal to ensure no one is left behind.


Preet Kaur Gill is the Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston and Shadow Secretary of State for International Development.

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