‘Stop returns and let every Afghan enter’

Protesters call on PM to open the doors to refugees as Kabul death count grows

By Ben Chacko

PRESSURE mounted on the Prime Minister to open the doors to refugees from the Afghanistan rout today as deaths mounted at Kabul airport.

Stand Up to Racism and the Afghan Human Rights Foundation will rally on Monday outside the Home Office under the demand: “Let Afghan refugees in — Stop deportations now.”

Branding the government’s pledge to let in 5,000 Afghan refugees this year and 20,000 in “coming years” woefully inadequate, the two organisations said the “humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan has thrown millions of people’s lives under urgent threat.

“We say Afghan refugees are welcome here and call on the government to let in all Afghan refugees and stop returns.”

They noted that several European governments, including those of Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, have called on the European Commission to keep deporting refugees to Afghanistan despite the chaotic retreat of Western forces and the Taliban takeover there, saying the development was “deeply worrying.”

But “the British state bears the greatest culpability of all the European states as one of the architects of the war in Afghanistan,” they said, adding that safe routes should be available immediately and that the Tory government should scrap its anti-refugee Nationality and Borders Bill.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed last week to ending the deportation of Afghan asylum-seekers, but he did not commit to granting refugee status to all those waiting for it in Britain, or freeing all Afghans currently held in detention.

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Today Mr Johnson said he would convene urgent G7 talks on the Afghan crisis tomorrow, following British army reports that at least seven Afghans were killed today in a crush at Kabul airport as panicked crowds seek to escape.

Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has asked the US authorities to extend the deadline – currently the end of the month – for evacuating people from Afghanistan.

Most of those being evacuated are US and other Western citizens, though some who worked for the occupying countries have also been helped out.

But it was not just up to the US to extend its deadline, Mr Heappey admitted: “The Taliban get a vote in that too.” The withdrawal deadline was agreed with the Taliban in return for a ceasefire – which covered only US forces, not the jihadist army’s engagements with Afghan government troops – last year.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer wrote to Boris Johnson today asking him to confirm that he had pressed Washington to extend the deadline, and enquiring whether Britain could work with other Nato countries to keep doing so after all US troops left.

But peace campaigners warned against any extension of the military deployment in the country after former prime minister Tony Blair, who joined the US in invading Afghanistan in 2001, denounced the Western retreat as “imbecilic” over the weekend and claimed that the 20-year occupation had “achieved a lot.”

Mr Starmer also defended the decision to attack the country in an Observer interview.

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But Stop the War Coalition’s Chris Nineham said Mr Blair’s intervention showed he was “incapable of learning.”

“To oppose ending an occupation that has led to the death of 240,000 Afghans is almost incomprehensible,” he said.

“To argue to keep ‘humanitarian intervention’ alive after Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya is delusional. All these interventions were catastrophic — collectively they have made the world a much, much more dangerous and frightening place.

“Unfortunately Keir Starmer’s comment that the invasion of Afghanistan was the right decision shows that Blairite ideology has again taken hold of Labour’s leadership.”

He added that the peace movement needed to remain mobilised to combat the “imperial delusions” of the political class.

Coventry South MP Zarah Sultana also hit back at Mr Blair, saying US President Joe Biden had been forced to concede “the failure of endless wars” but “much of Britain’s political class is furious — they want to be back with Bush in 2001. It’s time for Westminster to move on and catch up with reality.”

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said Mr Blair was the last person people should heed.

“Blair has some front criticising Biden when along with Bush he was responsible for the greatest loss of civilian life in the 21st century,” he tweeted. “I also recall when he sent troops into Afghanistan he implied it would be a short-lived exercise. Liar or imbecile or both?”

The demo to let in the refugees will take place tonight at 6pm outside the Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF

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Published at morningstaronline.co.uk