PM to call for increase in aid to Afghanistan to avert humanitarian crisis

18 August 2021, 00:40

Boris Johnson will address MPs on Wednesday
Boris Johnson will address MPs on Wednesday. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Boris Johnson is set to tell MPs there must be an immediate increase in aid to Afghanistan to avert a humanitarian crisis following the Taliban's seizure of power.

MPs will return to Parliament from their summer break for an emergency sitting on Wednesday, days after the country’s capital Kabul fell to the militants.

The Prime Minister and the Government have come under increasing pressure over the handling of the downfall of the Western-backed government and subsequent evacuation of British nationals and local allies.

EXPLAINED: The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan: What we know and what's next

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On Tuesday night, Mr Johnson announced a new settlement scheme, which would allow up to 20,000 Afghan vulnerable refugees to seek sanctuary in the UK over the coming years.

But the scheme has faced immediate backlash for falling short of what is needed, and the PM can expect to come under fire from former Armed Services personnel on his own backbenches as he updates MPs on the work done to mitigate the crisis so far.

Protests are also planned outside of Parliament calling for support for Afghans and their families who have worked with the allies.

Mr Johnson is expected to tell MPs of the steps the international community needs to take to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan.

They include an immediate increase in humanitarian aid to the country and the surrounding region as well as a longer-term project to support refugees.

Speaking to US President Joe Biden on Tuesday night, Mr Johnson stressed the importance of work in the region and not to lose the gains of the last 20 years.

A No 10 spokesperson said: "The Prime Minister and President Biden agreed on the need for the global community to come together to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan."

Home Secretary Priti Patel, writing in the Daily Telegraph, said although the UK had committed to taking in thousands of refugees at risk of persecution by the Taliban, the country cannot take all the strain alone.

She said: "The UK is also doing all it can to encourage other countries to help. Not only do we want to lead by example, we cannot do this alone."

The newspaper reported the Prime Minister had spoken to the French and German governments, and Ms Patel led talks with the Five Eyes intelligence alliance - comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States - to identify safe and legal routes for those who need to leave Afghanistan.

But opposition parties have criticised the Afghan Citizens' Resettlement Scheme, which will give priority to women and girls, and religious and other minorities.

Human rights groups also hit out at Government plans over immigration more widely.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour's shadow home secretary, said there needed to be a "more urgent plan of action".

He said: "This proposal does not meet the scale of the challenge. Not only does that risk leaving people in Afghanistan in deadly danger, it will also undermine the leadership role Britain must play in persuading international partners to live up to their responsibilities."

Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for foreign affairs, said: "The Government have kicked this into the long grass when Afghans need help now, today. 20,000 should be the starting point of this scheme, not the target."

Ian Blackford, the SNP's leader in Westminster, said the target should be to welcome at least 35,000 to 40,000 Afghan refugees.

The Government said the new scheme was in addition to the 5,000 Afghans already expected to move to the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), which is designed to offer local allies such as interpreters priority relocation to the UK.

Government figures showed 2,000 have already arrived under the ARAP programme.

Since Saturday, officials said 520 British nationals, diplomats and former Afghan staff have left Afghanistan on UK military flights.

Meanwhile, claims from the Taliban that it would respect human rights and uphold the rights of women and girls "within the framework of Sharia" law have so far been treated with scepticism.