Labour demands Patel outline Afghan refugee safe routes immediately

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Nick Thomas-Symonds has called on ministers to “take responsibility and outline plans immediately” in response to comments from Priti Patel that safe routes of passage will be created for Afghan refugees after August 31st.

Commenting on the ongoing situation in the country, where the Taliban returned to power last week after the US began to withdraw its troops, the Shadow Home Secretary criticised the “appalling mishandling of the collapse in Afghanistan”.

US troops controlling Kabul airport, the only functioning airport in the country, are scheduled to leave by August 31st. Johnson and other leaders failed to agree with Joe Biden an extension to the deadline at a G7 meeting this week.

Thomas-Symonds likened the commitment from the Home Secretary this afternoon, to open up safe routes of passage for Afghan refugees attempting to travel to the UK, to “trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted”.

The Shadow Home Secretary warned that ministers have left “huge numbers of lives at risk”, adding: “The lack of planning to get people at risk out is unforgivable, given it has been 18 months since the Doha deal.”

He said: “We still don’t know when these supposed safe routes will open or how people fearing for their lives will be able to access help once the airport closes, and the military has left. It is a dangerous mess, ministers should take responsibility and outline plans immediately.”

Labour has repeatedly stressed that there were 18 months between the agreement to withdraw and the subsequent implementation, and that Biden had been clear in his intention to respect the agreement made by predecessor Donald Trump.

Kabul airport is currently being defended and run by the US army, which has 5,800 troops on the ground, with the help of around 1,000 UK troops. Ministers have said UK personnel will leave before the US withdraws.

The Taliban have pledged not to attack foreign forces during the evacuation, but have insisted that all troops must be out by the deadline on Tuesday.

Boris Johnson said earlier today that UK personnel would “keep going as long as we can” but claimed the “overwhelming majority” of those eligible had been evacuated, telling the BBC that around 15,000 people had been flown out of the capital.

Labour MPs have challenged the figure put forward by the Prime Minister. Christ Bryant described it as “very difficult to believe” while Andy Slaughter tweeted: “From our caseload of over 100 families, I can say that the vast majority of eligible Afghans have not been evacuated. So this is just a bare-faced and sickeningly cynical lie.”

Two bombings took place late this afternoon outside a gate of the airport, where civilians were waiting to enter the airfield, and at a nearby hotel. It is not known how many are hurt by the Taliban has said at least 13 have been killed.

Warnings had emerged about a threat from Afghanistan’s Islamic State group affiliate overnight, with armed forces minister James Heapey saying early on Thursday that there was “very, very credible reporting of an imminent attack”.

Reacting to the news, Keir Starmer tweeted: “Devastating reports from Kabul. Our thoughts are with all those killed and wounded, serving personnel supporting the evacuations and all those desperately trying to leave. The bravery of the troops at the airport will always outweigh the cowardice of those who wish to harm us.”

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