The Afghanistan debacle should shame this Government. No matter how much they try to bluster and obfuscate it, their blunders and bombast have led to thousands of desperate, terrified people being left behind.
I am seeking to help 640 family members of residents in West Ham trapped in Afghanistan and in urgent need of help. To date, I am aware of just three people from my caseload who have been evacuated by the Government. Just 0.5% of the vulnerable people my correspondence suggests are in need.
We now know many of the urgent appeals for help I sent to the Government were not even opened. I would love to tell you all about these people, but I can’t risk exposing them to more danger from the Taliban. It is a national shame and humiliation.
The last plane has left, and the Government pretends the crisis is over. They expect the news cycle to move on, and their ineptitude to be forgotten. We cannot allow this to happen.
They have abandoned British nationals to fend for themselves, and there are so many stories of the extreme vulnerability of those left behind. But the Government can’t even provide clear advice about how to stay as safe as possible, much less support those who are frantic to seek safety.
So many who played a role in the failed ‘mission’ to build a stable, peaceful, democratic Afghanistan that recognises the rights of all its people are now in danger. Religious and ethnic minorities like the largely Shia Hazara people, women and girls, and LGBT+ people face systematic murder and persecution because stated UK foreign policy goals for Afghanistan have been abandoned.
The Government told MPs that the underlying criterion for the evacuation was not some narrow bureaucratic rule, but vulnerability. The Government, superficially, recognised that many people would need assistance to leave: those working for UK-funded NGOs, Afghan Government officials, women’s rights campaigners, journalists, and more. The loved ones of my constituents are vulnerable, in all these ways and more.
What we gave was false hope. The Government lied to Afghans, telling them the UK was still on their side and would try to get them out. This put them in greater danger. I keep hearing of constituents’ family members being actively being hunted by the Taliban. The Taliban’s degree of control over the country has only increased during the last two weeks, and their stance against Afghans trying to leave has only got stronger.
If the Government told the truth, at the beginning, that only a tiny, extremely lucky minority would be evacuated by plane from Kabul, people could better decide which of their extremely risky options was safest for their families, while borders were still relatively porous. But, even last week, MPs had constituents seeking to travel to Kabul and into great danger in the vain hope that they could get their family out on a flight.
The Government utterly failed to plan for an immediate collapse of the Government of Afghanistan, or a rapid fall of Kabul to the Taliban. They had no contingency plan for reality, and the result has been betrayal, suffering and terror on an enormous, heart-breaking scale. Now, after the utter disaster of Afghanistan, the whole world can see our Government is completely delusional about the world we live in, and its delusions are putting lives at risk.
Tory foreign policy barely exists beyond ‘Global Britain’ sloganeering. We don’t need more foreign policy as a PR stunt. We don’t need Government as a vendor of false hope and fantasies. What we need is a foreign policy that understands the world as it is, acknowledges that our power is limited, creates achievable plans, and sees those plans through.
We need a concrete, achievable strategy to save the lives of those they have abandoned through refugee resettlement and support at scale. Even this Government could repair some of the damage caused by their lack of strategic planning and intelligence, their lack of honesty and compassion. But to do that, they must start by getting my constituents’ families out of Afghanistan and welcoming them home.
Lyn Brown is the Labour MP for West Ham