View from the house: 'Let’s welcome the people from Afghanistan'
Barry Gardiner MP, Brent North
- Credit: PA
Last Saturday I held a special surgery on Afghanistan. More than 150 families turned up to highlight the desperate plight of their loved ones who remain in that country after the final withdrawal by the UK.
Some people who remain are British citizens, hoping against hope that there will be some way to bring their loved ones out. Some are Afghani citizens married to Brits and whose children are therefore British, but have no British passport. Others are people who helped the UK try to build a nation where girls had a right to education, where women had a right to live and work on equal terms with men, and where human rights were respected by everyone: the translators, the doctors, the aid workers, now all under threat and vulnerable because the Taliban says they were helping the UK forces.
Listening to their stories in real time was harrowing. Stories of how family members had gone into hiding, their family homes ransacked, their cars and possessions looted and much worse: men beaten up on the streets and others hunted down and killed, whilst young female relatives were abducted as sex slaves by the Taliban. The surgery lasted from 8.30 in the morning until 8pm at night without a break and by the end I and my four caseworkers were mentally and physically exhausted.
As I drove back to my secure comfortable home that evening, I felt ashamed. Ashamed that after 20 years of occupation in that country, persuading so many Afghans that freedom and democracy were worth fighting for and that a society where basic rights were respected could be a reality, we had just abandoned them. You cannot show people an image of a better future, have them sacrifice so much to achieve it and then snatch it away from them like that.
The UK government has known for 18 months that we were leaving. The Trump deal with the Taliban decided it and President Biden was always clear he would stick by it. So why did our government not plan for it? What military occupies a country for 20 years, and then does not prepare a proper plan B for its evacuation? How did our Intelligence Services fail so badly? They were still announcing that Kabul would hold out another month the day before the Taliban took it. This was incompetence on a grand scale and at every level.
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The government says that over the next five years it will accept 20,000 Afghan people under a Resettlement Scheme – but only 5,000 this year! Now the borders are closed and the Taliban are attacking those trying to leave how many of the extra 15,000 do they think are realistically going to manage to flee to Britain?
Over a month ago I was writing to the Home Office to ask that they expedite the passport renewal for one of my constituents whose wife and children were there. I was told that Afghanistan was stable and there was no need to expedite the passport. The complacency – the utter complacency!
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Now as refugees start arriving in the UK and coming out of quarantine, what will our response be as a community? We in Brent, who have seen this episode so many times before: the Indian community driven out from East Africa, the Somali community fleeing war in the Horn of Africa, the Bosnian refugees, the Syrian refugees. If we cannot open our arms and embrace these courageous people, who have given up everything in order to create a better life for their children, then who can?
Come on Brent! Let’s welcome the people from Afghanistan.