The month of August has been abnormally busy in all MP’s constituency offices due to the alarming and distressing events in Afghanistan. Like many colleagues, I have been contacted by, or on behalf of, people fleeing Afghanistan. Those who have written to me have included British nationals and their families, Afghans who worked for the British Government, and other Afghans who have reason to fear for their safety.
I wanted to take this opportunity to thank my team in the constituency office for their continuing hard work (especially one who worked tirelessly for a number of our local constituents from her Covid-sickbed), as well as constituents who have contacted me, and provided the necessary data, on behalf of their family and friends. I know the wait for information has at times been very trying and has caused enormous anxiety, but the FCDO has told us that it had more contact from MPs (and other people) in the last three weeks than during the entire Covid crisis (where UK residents were mainly stuck abroad and needed help getting home). The focus has been on getting as many British nationals, and Afghans at risk, to safety as quickly as possible through Operation PITTING, rather than respond to chasing emails from MPs. The FCDO, Home Office, MoD civilian staff and our Armed Forces worked incredibly hard, in exceptionally difficult circumstances, to bring over 15,000 people to safety in the UK over the two weeks of the operation, including families of our constituents.
The evacuation window was not extended – not through want of trying - and Operation PITTING is now concluded. However, efforts are still being made, led by the Foreign Secretary, to work out how those who are eligible to come to the UK can do so.
Afghans have recently arrived on UK soil in the most difficult and emotional of circumstances and I know that the vast majority of residents in Hastings and Rye will make them feel welcome if we have the opportunity to do so. Many residents have asked how they can help; both Rother District and Hastings Borough Councils have pledged to support Afghan refugees.
Many residents will know of my firm approach towards illegal migrants. The Afghans coming to our country are not illegal migrants; they are very much refugees. In fact, those who are eligible under the ARAP have a right to be here under that scheme.
We really do owe a special debt to those brave Afghans who supported and worked alongside British Armed Forces and other personnel over the past 20 years as interpreters and staff. It is right that the Government has promised that the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) is open-ended and the UK will continue to relocate and welcome former Afghan staff and their families. The Government has brought in ‘Operation Warm Welcome’, a cross government initiative to ensure that Afghans arriving in the UK receive the support they need to find work, integrate into their new communities, and their children receive the education they need - all helping to rebuild their lives in a new country. Importantly, arrivals under this scheme will be given immediate indefinite leave to remain, giving them stability and certainty.
A new scheme, the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) is being developed which will provide protection for Afghans at risk, identified as in need. The eligibility requirements are yet to be published but will include those who face a particular threat from the Taliban or who have contributed to civil society because of their role in standing up for democracy and human rights, or because of their gender, sexuality or religion, for example.
I really do believe that we have a moral duty and obligation to those who will now be seeking refuge and asylum from Afghanistan. I fear particularly for the women and children who will suffer under the brutality of the Taliban regime. Whilst the UK Government must do all it can with other nations through international organisations like the UN, I know that our communities in Hastings and Rye will do our bit if we are called upon to do so.