I was away in Suffolk as the Afghan Government collapsed but followed the distressing events closely and immediately took what action I could.
I joined with MPs across parties to send an urgent letter to the Home Secretary urging an increase in safe routes out of Afghanistan and the establishment of a resettlement scheme to support those seeking refuge in the UK (you can read the text of the letter here). As Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Students, I also asked the Prime Minister to ensure that those with places in UK universities should be able to take them up, and have been making representations to the Government on behalf of constituents.
As Parliament was recalled to debate the UK’s response to the crisis, I continued to work with my casework team to make representations to the Foreign Office and the Home Office on behalf of constituents who are understandably worried about family members still in Afghanistan. I have also liaised with the City Council over support we can offer to refugees in Sheffield.
I strongly believe that the UK should play a leading role, alongside other countries that have been involved in Afghanistan, in providing refuge to all who are at risk because they worked with NATO forces or were involved in promoting human rights, education, and other programmes – particularly for women and girls – and for those minorities, such as the Hazaras and Sikhs, who face persecution.
The immediate challenge though is to ensure that those threatened are able to seek refuge, and it appears that our Government was slower to act in assisting people than some other countries. The international community now needs to act swiftly to secure effective routes for refugees. I will press the Government to provide detail about the resettlement scheme for Afghan asylum seekers that they’ve promised and to open it urgently.
In the special debate in Parliament, Labour’s leader Keir Starmer rightly said that the Government’s plans are not ambitious enough and don’t tackle the immediate dangers facing people currently in Afghanistan. He argued that the UK should be a world leader, with a resettlement programme large enough to face the scale of the challenge and be “generous and welcoming” because we in the UK “owe an obligation to the people of Afghanistan”. He was also right to point out that the Government had not offered any justification for their 5,000 target and had seemingly pulled it “out of the air”; I believe that we should be focussed on need, not numbers.
Keir also pointed out the inadequacy of the current asylum system, where “too many” Afghans who had assisted British efforts in the region were being made to “jump through bureaucratic hoops” and that only 2,000 Afghans of the 7,000 have been provided resettlement help so far according to Home Office figures.
I share this concern and have repeatedly pressed the Government over the operation of the asylum system, and specifically the failures of the Syrian resettlement scheme. I think this crisis also exposes the Government’s plans for refugees in the Nationality and Borders Bill which I have opposed and will continue to do so.