As I write I have just heard the very welcome news that a constituent from Lancing and his family have boarded a flight out of Kabul after a week in and out of queues dodging the Taliban, stampedes and general chaos. My office has been working directly with others night and day to make sure they have the necessary permissions to be evacuated to safety. Some are already back in the UK; others are still battling their way through. It has been very sobering to hear the first-hand experiences from the frontline of people as they try to make it to safety.
Last week I gave an update after the debate on the Afghanistan situation in the Commons and since then it has been a very fast moving and fast changing situation. Thank you to all those who have written to me urging our Government to do everything we can to evacuate as many people as risk as possible and that is exactly what has been happening. All those individual cases that have come directly to me have been passed on to the appropriate authority and we are monitoring their progress. At the end of this update I have included contact details for cases of vulnerable non-British nationals who may need help.
Over the last couple of days I have had briefings with ministers from the Home Office, Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence; heads of Border Force and the military command centre and our excellent ambassador who has stayed behind in Kabul, Sir Laurie Bristow. The British effort that has been going on in Kabul and in London has been absolutely gargantuan and we should be very proud of how our military and officials have stepped up to the mark and continue to work tirelessly around the clock. I pay particular tribute to Border Force officials, soldiers and others who have volunteered to be flown out to Kabul to do their job in very dangerous circumstances to them personally.
Please be assured that everything is being done in the last few days that remain before US forces unilaterally withdraw on the instructions of an American administration who basically have made a complete shamble of their exit, with little regard for the wellbeing of their allies.
I have set out a few highlights from the briefings I have had below and will continue to post further information as that becomes necessary. Please let me know if you are aware of friends or family with constituency connections who still need help but please be aware that British officials are calling forward a very large number of people who are British passport holders and their families; have been working alongside the British military or other British Government agencies or Afghan nationals who have been identified as particularly vulnerable usually with some connection to the UK. The problem is not capacity to evacuate people with currently a plane taking off every 45 minutes. The problem is getting people to the airport running the gauntlet of numerous Taliban checkpoints.
Inevitably some people will be missed in such a chaotic situation and work is being undertaken to secure exit routes once the airport is no longer held by NATO forces but that obviously depends on the very volatile and ruthless regime that the Taliban will be installing.
- As at today over 12,000 people have been evacuated by British military in the last 12 days. Overall, 21,600 people have been flown out in the last 24 hours of which about 2000 were evacuated by UK forces.
- We are working very closely with other international partners and have also been offering lifts to Australian and European nationals and others and visa-versa. When planes are as full as possible they take off and are mostly being transited via Dubai.
- The British Army logistics have been amazing as usual. They have been sourcing thousands of Halal meals in the Middle East and are also flying in 15000 litres of water a day along with nappies, toiletries and even colouring books and crayons to keep children occupied.
- Border Force are trying to balance getting as many people to safety as quickly as possible with making sure that people who are on international ‘no-fly’ lists usually for terrorism reasons are not allowed in. Several of these have been intercepted so far including one who did make it to Birmingham Airport but was the detained. Security considerations in the UK must remain paramount. They are also having to deal with a predictable increase in forged documents.
- A number of people have asked about the safety of staff at the animal welfare centre run by former British soldier ‘Pen’ Farthing at the Nowzad charity. Contrary to some reports they have all been offered evacuation and if possible, their animals too, although obviously capacity should be prioritised for humans over animals. The problem has again been about getting access to the airport through the crowds and Taliban checkpoints.
- Similarly reports that former security guards at the British Embassy had been denied safe passage are misleading. Again, they have all been invited to come forward and can be evacuated to the UK and many have already done so.
- The Taliban appears to be making it more difficult for non-British passport holders or those without the necessary papers to get to the Basil Hotel which is the British processing centre near the airport. The length of time the airport remains accessible to those fleeing will primarily depend on how long the US forces stay as air traffic control is currently being operated by American military personnel. Every hour is therefore crucial and all our people are working around the clock to maximise the numbers being evacuated but realistically those who have not yet been able to make their way to Kabul are unlikely to be included.
- Inevitably the scenes broadcast from Kabul will have a particularly traumatic impact on members of the military who have served out there. Special support services are being put in place to give help. Op COURAGE: The Veterans Mental Health and Wellbeing Service offers specialist care and support for Service leavers, reservists, veterans and their families. For services in Sussex, call 020 3317 6818 or email email@example.com. For the Op COURAGE urgent care and support service, call 02394 387 924 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Inevitably many people have been coming forward with offers of help including offers of accommodation which whilst welcome is often practical as many of the Afghan refugees are large family groups needing larger premises and this will take some time to source. I am pleased that both Adur & Worthing Councils have stepped up to the mark to offer help locally. I am sure that when we are able to play host to some Afghan families, we will all want to play our part in welcoming and supporting them. Many bags of donated clothes and other goods are already being collected around the country but to avoid duplication and logistic problems the Government has set out practical ways of offering help here: https://tinyurl.com/df5rkr4w
For British nationals, call +44 (0)1908 516666 and select the option “Consular services for British nationals” or email email@example.com
For non-British nationals who are considered under the ARAP scheme, please send their details to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the vulnerable Afghans remaining in Afghanistan when we are no longer able to conduct evacuation flights, the Home Office have established a telephone number for vulnerable non-British nationals in need of assistance. The number +44 (0)2475 389980 is already live.