Tuesday, December 7

UK Has No Coherent Plan For Afghan Refugee Crisis, Former Whitehall Chief Says | Foreign policy

Britain and its allies do not have a coherent plan to deal with the huge refugee crisis that is expected to follow the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, a former cabinet secretary has warned.

Mark Sedwill, a former ambassador to Afghanistan and a senior adviser to two British prime ministers, said the emergency airlift from Kabul had only helped “relatively small numbers” and that greater pressures would likely emerge as people fled overland.

Speaking at a Policy Exchange thinktank event, Sedwill said that while the US decision to exit Afghanistan after 20 years could not be changed, it had a number of important consequences that required action from Britain and the West.

“First, a major humanitarian effort will be required in and around Afghanistan. We will be very lucky if there is no really significant refugee crisis, “said the former Mandarin, adding that the Taliban would have to run a” completely different and inclusive government “from when they ruled previously, before the 2001 invasion.

He said about the departure of foreign forces from Afghanistan: “In my opinion, this is bad policy, badly implemented. It is an act of strategic self-harm.

“The victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan will undoubtedly fuel extremism and terrorism around the world, whether or not it is directed from there.”

Mark Sedwill
Mark Sedwill described the western withdrawal of his armed forces from Afghanistan as an “act of strategic self-harm.” Photograph: Roger Askew / The Oxford Union / Rex / Shutterstock

The achievement of the emergency airlift, in which 114,000 people were evacuated from Kabul in just over two weeks “cannot and should not conceal that, overall, we still do not have a coherent policy and plan to deal with the flows of refugees from Afghanistan, ”added Sedwill.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR has warned that there may now be another 500,000 Afghans crossing the border into neighboring countries, in addition to the 2.2 million who fled to countries like Pakistan before the end of last year.

Thousands of people who were recognized as having a firm or probable resettlement claim to the UK were left behind in Afghanistan when the airlift ended, leaving Britain to call the Taliban directly to allow others to leave the country safely. Many other Western countries are in a similar situation.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Thursday that evacuations could resume from Kabul airport “in the near future” as he began a tour of the region mainly to request help in the evacuation of more people from the country.

Late on Thursday night, the Foreign Office said it would make £ 10 million of aid immediately available to UNHCR to help provide shelters, health facilities and emergency supplies to border refugee camps, and another £ 20. million to border countries experiencing significant increases in refugees, which could include Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

On a visit to paratroopers in Colchester on Thursday, Boris Johnson praised British soldiers for their role in the UK airlift of more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan. The prime minister said: “When you look at the numbers that we have helped come out … we have far exceeded the numbers that we thought were eligible.”

But Johnson acknowledged that he had no clearer idea of ​​the number of people still to be evacuated. He said: “The answer is that there are some, and we take great care of them, we are thinking about them, we are doing everything we can to help.”

Last week, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace suggested that Afghans waiting to be evacuated to the UK might be better off heading to one of the country’s land borders, where Britain would accept claims from neighboring countries.

But there is also growing concern that Afghans crossing the border into a third country who thought they might come to the UK will not be able to do so, and in a subsequent briefing for MPs on Monday, Wallace said that those considering fleeing they must “use their judgment.” “As for whether to cross the border.

The resettlement right for Afghan translators and others who worked directly for the British government is fixed, but the broader asylum rules for people leaving Afghanistan for a neighboring country have yet to be determined.

Sarah Olney, a Democrat MP for Liberals, said: “I don’t know anymore if I should advise people to cross the Afghan border. What if people cross the border thinking they have the right to come to the UK and are denied? ”.

Sedwill also cautioned that the goodwill of neighboring countries could not necessarily be relied upon, given the large number of Afghans who had already fled. “Neighbors really can’t absorb more,” he warned.

Speaking in Qatar on Thursday, Raab said he had “good talks” with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, about the “feasibility” of resuming evacuations from Kabul airport for UK citizens and Afghans. who worked with Great Britain.

“I don’t think we can say anything formal yet, but it looks like it could happen sometime in the near future,” Raab told the broadcasters.

Qatar, with possible help from Turkey, hopes to help reopen the airport shortly, beginning with internal flights. “There is no clear indication yet of when it will be fully operational, but we are working very hard and also engaging with the Taliban,” the emir added.

Sedwill was the UK’s cabinet secretary and national security adviser from April 2018 to September 2020 and was the highest ranking NATO official in Afghanistan a decade ago. But Johnson forced him out of his last job, promising that the UK would nominate him for the post of NATO chief in the future.

There was already approximately 2.2 million Afghan refugees in neighboring countries, according to UN figures, before the latest crisis, which has caused tens of thousands of people to head to the borders when the Taliban took control. UNHCR estimates that in a worst-case scenario, up to 500,000 more refugees could flee the country to Pakistan, Tajikistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in the coming months.


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