It is right that we have been recalled to Parliament to speak here today – such is the magnitude of the situation facing the Afghan people.
So many of my constituents across Vauxhall have asked me to attend – to relay their deep concerns to this Government. I want to pay tribute to my constituent Emma Harrison for setting up a petition calling on the Government to resettle Afghan Refugees – at the time of writing this petition has secured over 116k signatures.
And like them, I feel a deep sense of shame and guilt at the UK’s actions and handling of the situation. To watch a situation where people are so scared that they feel their only hope of escaping is to cling onto a moving plane is heart-breaking.
The failure to prepare for the safe and swift evacuation of British nationals, support staff and the Afghans who worked alongside us is catastrophic.
Our immediate priority must be their safe and swift evacuation. They have served alongside our armed forces over the past 20 years – and we must never forget that it has been their sacrifices and dedication to delivering the Government’s objectives in Afghanistan that has enabled the progress over the last 20 years.
The scale of the refugee crisis will require an international response. We should help lead that effort by committing to a British Afghanistan Resettlement Programme, to create safe and legal routes for those suffering at the hands of the Taliban so they can make a new life here in Britain.
The scale of our refugee offer must commensurate the sheer scale of the crisis, and we cannot just pick random numbers out of the air. Mr Speaker I disagree with the Home Secretary that we cannot accommodate 20,000 in one go and I hope that the Government will recognise that people in Afghanistan do not have the luxury to wait for five years. It is estimated that 18.4 million people in Afghanistan already require humanitarian assistance and there is a real risk this will get worse.
We must urgently ramp up humanitarian and development support for those who need it most including women and girls. There needs to be a coordinated approach from the international community and a strategy to try to protect the gains made in the last 20 years on human rights and girls’ education. As my constituent Sima wrote to me – the situation in Afghanistan is dire. 20 years of Progress has been reversed and the vague promises of Women’s Rights within the Taliban have been the World’s most misleading headlines.
My friend, the Rt Hon Member for Camberwell & Peckham Highlighted the urgent need to hear the voices of women in this debate – they are at risk of rape and oppression.
Many UK development organisations have employed Afghan staff who have worked tirelessly to support female economic and social empowerment. And the women who stepped forward to take up roles in public life such as politics, law and the media and are now left fearing for their lives.
We – the international community – encouraged them to step forward, underwritten with security promises. We now have a shared obligation to them, along with international partners.