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THE Tories’ shameful abandonment of refugees during their chaotic evacuation of Afghanistan is being compounded by delays to a promised resettlement scheme, campaigners said today.
Former foreign secretary Dominic Raab defended his handling of the evacuation from Kabul after he was accused of leading a dysfunctional operation that led to “people dying at the hands of the Taliban.”
The allegations were levelled by whistleblower Raphael Marshall, a former desk officer at the Foreign Office, who claimed that just 5 per cent of Afghan nationals who applied to flee under one scheme received help.
Some of those left behind have since been murdered, he said.
In evidence submitted to the foreign affairs select committee, Mr Marshall also claimed that animals were given priority over people during the evacuation, that thousands of emails went unread and that the team handling cases had a “woeful lack of knowledge” about Afghanistan.
Despite only being a junior member of staff, he said that he was at one point the only person working on the evacuation desk, and was having to make life-and-death decisions.
His devastating account sparked outrage from politicians and campaigners, who accused the government of continuing to abandon the Afghans it had left at the mercy of the Taliban.
Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants interim chief executive Minnie Rahman said: “Over the past few months our government should have been doing everything in its power to provide protection to at-risk Afghans.
“Instead they abandoned tens of thousands of Afghans in August, and are continuing to abandon them now.”
Ms Rahman said it was shameful that the government was yet to open its promised Afghan resettlement scheme, announced by ministers in August with the aim of bringing 20,000 people to Britain.
“This government’s shameful abandonment of the Afghan people has already cost lives — it’s time they turned a corner to prevent further tragedy,” she said.
Confidence in the effectiveness of the scheme has also faltered in light of details, recently released by immigration minister Victoria Atkins, suggesting that refugees will not be able to apply for the resettlement scheme, but will instead be selected.
Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrants rights director Steve Valdez-Symonds pointed out that the government’s new Nationality and Borders Bill will also make it harder for Afghan refugees to reach safety in Britain.
“Ministers have not only failed to protect the lives of thousands of people … they are now busy building barriers to the asylum system to try to prevent Afghans – like refugees from conflicts and despots elsewhere – from seeking sanctuary in this country,” he said.
“The government has said its commitment to the Afghan people endures, but the reality is that there is no real commitment to anything other than avoiding asylum responsibilities, even while demanding other countries should meet theirs.”
In his evidence, Mr Marshall said that Mr Raab, who was on holiday for part of the crisis, had shown a misunderstanding of the dangerous situation at Kabul airport by delaying several emergency evacuation referrals.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that Mr Marshall’s devastating testimony “lays bare the shambolic incompetence of the government.”
The SNP called on the government to immediately open the resettlement scheme to help those it left behind.
Mr Marshall also claimed that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie Symonds intervened to organise the rescue of animals from the Nowzad shelter.
Mr Johnson today dismissed the allegations as “complete nonsense,” having been accused by Labour’s Lord Foulkes of giving “priority to dogs over threatened human beings.”
Defending the government’s actions, Mr Raab said it was inaccurate that junior staff were making decisions.
“On the charge it took several hours to make decisions, we’re not talking about days, it’s not been suggested weeks, but several hours, to make sure we had the facts,” he added.
“I would suggest that’s a reasonably swift turnaround.”
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