PRESSURE is mounting on the UK and other Western governments to resettle thousands of Afghan men, women, and children fleeing the Taliban overthrow of Afghanistan.
A scheme unveiled by the Prime Minister on Wednesday to resettle up to 5000 vulnerable Afghan refugees this year, and up to 20,000 over five years, has been criticised as not ambitious enough and too slow.
On Tuesday, the Taliban announced the new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, ending 20 years of foreign “occupation”, which began after the US and UK responded to the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001.
The Taliban’s final march into Kabul provoked chaos around the airport, as foreign nationals and the Afghans who had worked for them attempted to escape feared reprisals. A handful fell to their deaths after clinging to departing military planes.
President Biden, who ordered the troop withdrawal that allowed the Taliban advance, admitted that the scenes were “gut wrenching”, but defended the withdrawal of US personnel.
The Archbishop of Canterbury joined MPs and members of other faith groups in calling on the UK to fulfil its “undeniable moral obligation to welcome refugees”. The current situation in Afghanistan was the result of “tragic failures” which needed urgent humanitarian action, he said in a statement posted on social media on Tuesday.
“The UK has an undeniable moral obligation to welcome refugees — and keep families together wherever possible. And let us pray for God’s protection for those fleeing their homes and communities.
“Courageous British military personnel and their families deserve our support and prayer, especially at this time, for the sacrifices they have made and the wounds they have endured.”
Speaking in the House of Lords on Wednesday, after Parliament was recalled, Archbishop Welby said: “The failure we face today is not military or diplomatic: they [soldiers and diplomats] did all they could. It is political. Recovery and hope will come to Afghanistan with us supporting commitment to the neediest and most desperate. We have proven capacities in soft as well as hard power.
“We owe an absolute, lavishly generous moral covenant to all those who are at risk because they served with us in Afghanistan or took seriously our frequently professed commitment to its future, women and girls included. An Afghan refugee, now a UK citizen said to me this week, ‘families in such times of trouble belong together’. His words are not politics but humanity. This is about morals not numbers. Will the Government confirm that their policy will reflect moral obligation and not be controlled by numbers?”
The Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Lord Wallace, echoed the call, adding that Afghans should not be penalised for seeking refuge in the UK by “irregular routes”. All attempts to return people from Afghanistan who have been refused asylum to the UK should end immediately, he said.
A Quaker statement said: “After almost two decades of military presence, Quakers say the UK has a moral responsibility to people displaced by the conflict. The UK Government should work urgently with others to expand safe and legal routes for migration, and offer sanctuary to those who need it. The UK’s promise to provide visas for Afghan nationals working with British officials is a start, but the responsibility does not end there.”
The Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, warned of a “renewed and grave humanitarian catastrophe. . . There are already over 4.5 million displaced Afghans who are mainly in the region.
“I believe the EU, its member states, and other key players should do all they can to support the people of Afghanistan who are imperilled at this time, and especially those who have made such huge sacrifices to promote freedom from oppression and violence, freedom of expression, education, justice and human rights, especially for women.”
The Labour MP for Rhondda, Chris Bryant — a former Anglican priest — asked the Prime Minister to explain the plan to receive only 5000 refugees this year. “What are the other 15,000 meant to do; hang around and wait until they’ve been executed?”
Lord Dubs, a Labour peer and a former child refugee, said: “I think the criteria for prioritising women and children and vulnerable people is right; but these people are in danger now, and are in desperate need for safety.”
The Welcome Churches initiative is looking for churches in cities including Sheffield, Watford, Colchester, Southampton, and Scarborough which will offer practical help to newly arrived refugees.
The US could take 30,000 refugees, and Canada has already pledged to offer sanctuary to 20,000. Germany will also accept Afghan refugees.
Aid agencies fear that Afghanistan will now face a full-scale humanitarian catastrophe. More than half-a-million people have been displaced by fighting this year, 80 per cent of them women and girls. Many fled to Kabul as the Taliban swept through the country, and are living on the streets.
The Presiding Bishop of the US Episcopal Church, the Rt Revd Michael Curry, issued a prayer for Afghanistan, in which he wrote: “Eternal God, hear our prayer for the peoples of Afghanistan. There is a profound humanitarian crisis. Countless people, mostly women and children, are now fleeing and vulnerable. The lives of many are now endangered. The hopes of many are forgone.”
Christian Aid’s country manager in Afghanistan, Subrata De, has left the country to return home to India, but said that other staff remain. He said that the charity would not “desert” the people of Afghanistan. “The situation is dire, and more support will be required for poor and marginalised communities in the coming days,” he said.
“Christian Aid has been working in Afghanistan for 30 years, and we will not desert now. We’re doing all we can to continue distributions of food and emergency supplies to the most affected communities. We hope that humanitarian access will remain, especially access to women and girls in the communities, as we are very concerned about their safety.”
Some humanitarian aid had already been halted, including development aid from Germany, which was a crucial source of funding, he said.
Christian Aid was due to hold online prayers for Afghanistan and Haiti yesterday — the national holiday in Afghanistan to mark Afghan Independence Day — led by the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker; Archbishop Angaelos, of the Coptic Orthodox Church; and other church leaders.
The Taliban has sought to reassure Afghans and the wider world about its intentions for its regime, saying that women and girls would be able to work and get an education “within sharia law”. Under its brutal regime in the 1990s, the women’s movement was severely restricted, and punishments routinely included stoning and amputations. Many remain sceptical.