The UK government’s chaotic handling of the evacuation from Afghanistan in August has been laid bare by the withering testimony of whistleblower Raphael Marshall to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.
Former Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab faces fresh criticism that he reacted too slowly to the crisis, though he has today hit back on the BBC that the hours he spent considering cases of Afghans was in fact a “swift turnaround” given the need to balance security and humanitarian needs.
But it’s not Raab’s delays back in the summer that are concerning many people right now, it’s the ongoing delays to the launch of the promised Afghanistan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), which was meant to help 5,000 people to come to the UK within a year. So far not a single one has, because the scheme hasn’t even started.
It’s worth noting the reasons ex-Foreign Office staffer Marshall gave to MPs for why he took the brave step of exposing the dysfunction he had witnessed: he didn’t expect internal reviews would produce meaningful reform of crisis response structures or of “the resettlement of Afghan friends of the UK”.
Remember that at the height of the crisis, as it was accused of abandoning many vulnerable people, the Government unveiled the new resettlement scheme to prove it had a longer term commitment to those left behind. It promised to bring “up to 20,000 people to come to the UK over a period of years”, many of them women, LGBT people and democracy campaigners.
Home Office sources insist that the scheme will be “coming soon” and that the UK is further ahead than almost any other country, many of which have offered no settlement scheme at all. But with claims that some of those left behind have already been murdered for links to Britain, many will think a sense of urgency is missing.
Critics point out that Priti Patel’s new Nationalities and Borders Bill makes it even harder for Afghans who feel they can’t wait for ‘safe routes’ to attempt other ways to get to the UK. Which is why there is an onus on getting this new route from the Whitehall design stage and into reality.
As it happens, prisons minister Victoria Atkins, who was actually given the title “Minister for Afghan Resettlement” this summer, will be in the Commons today to update MPs.
But she is set to be delivering a statement on the Ministry of Justice’s drugs strategy for British jails, not on the continuing misery of those left behind in Afghanistan. Many of whom believe that Taliban rule means their country is itself now a living prison.