Foreign Sec calls for international support to help at-risk Afghans escape the Taliban

30 August 2021, 20:33 | Updated: 30 August 2021, 21:16

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said the UK must work "with a range of international partners" to deal with the Taliban
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said the UK must work "with a range of international partners" to deal with the Taliban. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens and Will Taylor

The UK hopes international alliances can be formed to exert a "moderating influence" on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and secure safe passage for people seeking to escape.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab set out the UK's aims at a meeting with counterparts from countries including the US, France and Germany.

The talks came on a day of international diplomacy as world powers discussed how to respond to the new administration in Kabul.

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Mr Raab's intervention came at a US-convened meeting for the G7 group of industrialised democracies - the UK, US, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy - along with representatives from the EU, Turkey, Qatar and the Nato alliance.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "The Foreign Secretary emphasised the importance of working with like-minded partners on safe passage and exit arrangements for eligible Afghans remaining in the country."

The Taliban has given assurances that foreign nationals and Afghan citizens with travel authorisation will be allowed to leave, but Mr Raab stressed that "we must judge them on their actions".

The Foreign Secretary said the strategic priorities were to prevent Afghanistan again becoming a haven for terrorism, to ensure humanitarian access, protect the human rights gains of the last 20 years and preserve regional stability,

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The Foreign Office said Mr Raab also highlighted the need to work "with a range of international partners in order to exercise the maximum moderating influence on the Taliban".

Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council has adopted a resolution on the situation in Afghanistan.

The UK's ambassador to the UN, Dame Barbara Woodward, said: "Today this Council has spoken clearly on the situation in Afghanistan and set out its minimum expectations of the Taliban.

"The immediate priority is ensuring all those who wish to leave Afghanistan can do so safely.

"We have been clear that the Taliban must adhere to their own stated commitments to ensure safe passage beyond August 31."

UK ambassador to the UN Dame Barbara Woodward said the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan requires "urgent attention"
UK ambassador to the UN Dame Barbara Woodward said the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan requires "urgent attention". Picture: Alamy

Ms Woodward said the progress made in the last 20 years must be protected, including safeguarding the human rights of women, children and minorities.

"This resolution lays down a marker that the international community will be watching closely," she said.

"Today's resolution is an important step towards a unified international response to the situation in Afghanistan.

"We will continue to build on this to ensure the council holds the Taliban accountable on its commitments.

"The Taliban will be judged by the international community on the basis of their actions on the ground, not their words."

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The focus on ensuring safe passage for eligible Afghans comes with uncertainty about how many might seek to reach the UK and how they can hope to make the journey following the end of the airlift.

Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly said it was impossible to estimate how many people eligible to come to the UK had been left behind after evacuation flights finished.

Around 15,000 people had been evacuated from Afghanistan in a "herculean" effort, Mr Cleverly said, but Labour has claimed around 5,000 may have been left behind and ministers have faced criticism over the UK response.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that if the Kabul regime wants diplomatic recognition - and the unlocking of frozen assets - it must allow safe passage for people wishing to leave, prevent Afghanistan again becoming a base for international terrorists, and respect the rights of women and girls.

Mr Cleverly said: "They have said that they want to be treated like a legitimate government. And there's a long way to go before we might consider that."

He said the majority of British nationals had left Afghanistan, but there were also eligible people under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) scheme - for people who helped UK forces - and others who could be under threat from the Taliban.

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With the deadline for the final withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan on Tuesday, violence continued in Kabul.

Rocket fire apparently targeting Kabul's international airport struck a nearby neighbourhood on Monday but US military C-17 transport planes continued the withdrawal effort as 20 years of Western military presence drew to a close.

The so-called Islamic State group's offshoot in Afghanistan, Isis-K, claimed responsibility, saying it fired at least six rockets at the airport.

The US military said five rockets targeted the airport on Monday morning but were intercepted.

On Sunday, a US drone strike blew up a vehicle carrying IS suicide bombers before they could attack the military evacuation at Kabul's airport, American officials said.

Reports suggested at least 10 civilians from one family, including children, were among the dead.