I was intending to speak in yesterday’s debate on the urgent situation in Afghanistan, but unfortunately, I wasn’t called. What I was planning on saying is posted below:
Thank you Mr Speaker.
I am pleased that Parliament is having the chance to debate this important issue.
I want to start by paying tribute to Corporal Danny Winter, a Royal Marine from Stockport. He made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan in January 2009. Our nation owes him and all those that were deployed an enormous debt of gratitude.
Before the tragic news that the Taliban had taken the Afghan capital of Kabul on Sunday, I, alongside 60 members from both Houses, wrote to the Foreign Secretary calling for urgent support to be given to refugees fleeing the country. I look forward to hearing the plans about providing much needed asylum assistance to the Hazara population. In addition to the almost obliterated Nanakpanthi community, people now categorised as Hindus and Sikhs.
Mr Speaker, religious minorities must be assured that they will be treated equally and not discriminated against and ostracised by the Taliban, as they were under the previous regime. The Guardian newspaper reported in 2001 that the Taliban planned to make all Hindus wear yellow badges, causing international outrage.
There are already almost 2.5 million registered refugees from Afghanistan, who comprise the largest protracted refugee population in Asia, and the second largest refugee population in the world. And now, with the resurgence of the Taliban, this number will only increase.
This country has a duty to provide sanctuary and support to those fleeing from a regime that has a history of massacring civilians, denying food supplies to starving people and banning women from education and the workforce.
But Mr Speaker, with so many lives at risk, why did it take until now for Parliament to be recalled to discuss this? Where have the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister been?
These are all questions that I hope will be answered today, yet the fact that they have to be asked in the first place is a shocking indictment of this Government’s priorities.
I may sound like a broken record Mr Speaker, but now, more than ever, it is clear that we must restore foreign aid spending to 0.7% of GNI to support humanitarian work in Afghanistan and across the globe; we must follow the example of Canada and work internationally to open up safe legal routes for refugees; and we must provide routes for family reunion and permanent settlement for Afghan nationals who are currently working and studying in the UK.
I hope that my own borough of Stockport, as well as the other Greater Manchester, welcome refugees to our area. However, to ensure refugees get the support they need when they arrive in this country, the Government must unveil a package of financial support for local authorities to provide the appropriate services. There also needs to be the fair distribution across local authorities.
The photos we have seen over the past week have been harrowing. We have seen images of people gripped to the wings of aeroplanes fleeing for their lives; of hundreds of people crammed on a plane; and of a man helping a young girl over a wall to escape.
If this Government’s response to that is weak and one that mirrors our previous record of resettling relatively few Afghan refugees, then we are failing all of those people we have seen trying to flee as their country falls into turmoil. Almost 50,000 civilians have been killed since Britain invaded Afghanistan almost 20 years ago. Enough unnecessary blood has been spilled. Now is not the time to abandon tens of thousands more Afghans to their fate.
Mr Speaker, before I finish, I wanted to mention the work of the UK Ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow. He has stayed behind at Kabul airport to personally process visa applications for all those that have worked with the British Embassy. I am sure Members on both sides of this House can agree, his work should be commended by all of us that are here today. So too should the efforts of all of the diplomatic staff, and NGO workers, who are continuing to risk their lives on the ground in major cities such as Kabul to help provide safe passage to some of the most vulnerable Afghan citizens – including women and religious minorities – as well as the many journalists who remain in the country to report on its plight.
Our Government must act urgently to prevent the country descending into chaos and putting tens of thousands of lives at risk. I urge the Prime Minister to heed the calls of everyone in this House today.
Thank you for giving me the chance to speak.