Labour calls for “safe and legal asylum routes” in response to Afghanistan news

Sienna Rodgers
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds has called on the government to “put in place safe and legal asylum routes” in response to the latest developments in Afghanistan as “Britain has a responsibility to those facing displacement”.

In a letter to Priti Patel today, the Shadow Home Secretary expressed concern that the UK’s commitments to resettle Afghan nationals who helped Britain in Afghanistan – such as interpreters – “do not go far and quick enough”.

“Britain has a responsibility to those facing displacement. So, alongside reconsidering the wrong-headed and short-sighted and decision to restrict foreign aid, the UK government must also look at helping displaced people through safe and legal asylum routes,” the letter stated.

Labour leader Keir Starmer urged the UK government on Saturday to do “more” to “ensure this withdrawal does not result in a humanitarian crisis”. He added today that the “situation in Afghanistan is shocking” and criticised the government for being “silent”.

Below is the full text of the letter from Nick Thomas-Symonds to Priti Patel.

Dear Priti,

I write in relation to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and its humanitarian impact. There are specific risks to Afghan citizens who have served alongside British representatives, and wider civilian displacement.

It is right that the UK government has made commitments to resettle Afghan nationals who have supported our work in Afghanistan. However, I am deeply concerned that the commitments made do not go far, and quick enough.

The Secretary of State for Defence recently said that around 2,000 Afghan interpreters and “other people we have an obligation to” would also be supported to travel to the UK, joining about 3,000 who have already been taken out of the country. I also understand that, in September 2020, through the Afghanistan relocation scheme, 445 former staff and their families have relocated to the UK, which was reported as meaning 1,319 Afghan interpreters and their families moved to the UK. I would be grateful if you could provide an update on how many people have been resettled through this scheme.

Clearly, the situation in Afghanistan is going to place in danger even more people who have bravely served with British representatives. As a result, it is clear that we must significantly increase the opportunities for those at risk to find safety in the UK.

It is vital that Britain and our allies live up to our obligations to those who have put themselves in harm’s way.

As a result, I would be grateful if you could answer the following questions:

  • Will the resettlement programmes be opened to interpreters and other key support staff who were employed by British representatives, via third party organisations?
  • Will the resettlement programs be opened to interpreters and other key support staff who were employed by British media organisations while in Afghanistan? They played a vital role and should not be abandoned.
  • What steps are being taken to provide the logistical and resettlement support necessary, so those eligible for resettlement schemes and their families can quickly make the necessary move.
  • Would you agree to establishing an urgent expert panel to help identify, at speed, the groups who are at increased risk and establish a rapid plan for resettlement? It is deeply concerning to see senior military and media representatives outline cases of Afghan workers who played a vital role serving Britain abandoned without support. This panel should also consider the role Afghan workers placed in supporting British aid efforts in Afghanistan, through DFID and related organisations.

Sadly, we also know that the return of Taliban control to large swathes of Afghanistan will have a devastating impact on the wider civilian population. It is highly likely that many thousands of people will be driven from their homes, with women and girls at particular risk.

As a result of our commitments to the Afghan people, Britain has a responsibility to those facing displacement. So, alongside reconsidering the wrong-headed and short-sighted and decision to restrict foreign aid, the UK government must also look at helping displaced people through safe and legal asylum routes.

The rapidly changing situation in Afghanistan is a dark moment for the world. It is vital that the UK lives up to its responsibilities.

Yours sincerely,

Rt Hon Nick Thomas-Symonds MP
Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

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