Opinion: 'The Government must act quickly to help genuine refugees in need at this time of crisis'
Tom Hunt MP for Ipswich
- Credit: PA
Wednesday saw the return of Parliament as we used to see before the pandemic. It was certainly strange to be back within a packed chamber. It is a shame that it was for such sombre circumstances and although I sat through most of the debate and put in to speak, I unfortunately didn’t get called. However, I wanted to try to have my say on this important issue of the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan.
First, I would like to place on record my gratitude to all the UK service men and women, particularly those from the Ipswich area, who have served in Afghanistan during the last 20 years. Our thoughts will always be with those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in a foreign land to keep us safe. We must now make sure that Afghanistan is not allowed to return to become a breeding ground for terrorists who make attacks on British soil.
The many passionate speeches by colleagues in the packed Commons chamber showed the strength of feeling on the topic. I completely understand why some might question the success of the UK operations. In my opinion we have made important progress. We have seen the attacks on the UK from terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda put to an end. We intervened to stop Afghanistan being a haven for these terrorists and this has made a critical difference.
I understand that the results of the past week are far from what anyone wanted to see and there have been some serious miscalculations, largely from US intelligence, that have played a central part. I believe the US President, who remains defiant, has been largely missing in action and must take the lion’s share of responsibility for this NATO withdrawal.
I also sincerely believe that the Government must act quickly to take a limited number of refugees who are trying to escape the new Taliban regime. The images we have all seen of Kabul airport are truly shocking and I know that everyone will want to help those who genuinely need to leave Afghanistan for fear of persecution. We should also ensure we particularly help those who assisted us in our operations, such as interpreters and their families who are certainly in danger if they remain in Afghanistan. I know the British Consulate in Kabul as well as troops that have been deployed there are doing all they can, and I want to thank them for their continued efforts.
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I welcomed the Prime Minister’s comments that there should be a robust process to any refugees coming into the country. It is absolutely vital that we make sure that no unsavoury characters, who could do damage here in the UK do not end up here. I also believe it is very important that all NATO countries should play their part and take their fair share of refugees into their country. I was pleased to see the Home Secretary, Priti Patel announced a fair resettlement scheme that initially prioritises women and girls alongside religious and other minority groups who are a high risk under a new Taliban regime.
The events of Afghanistan this past week in my opinion, is a further example of why we need to put an end to the illegal migrant crossings from Calais. We need to directly engage more with these migrants coming over from France, as the reality is that amongst them are people who are not genuine refugees. Every one of them that gets over to British shores and is able to stay here, will likely limit our ability to show compassion to those fleeing directly from areas of persecution like Afghanistan. There is a stark contrast between Afghanistan, where we are placing a priority to bring over women and children most at risk, and the illegal crossings we see from another safe European country France, where they overwhelmingly seem to be young men travelling across.
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I know that my constituents, who are decent and compassionate people, that see hundreds of individuals illegally come over from Calais every day would have concerns about that on top of 20,000 refugees. Of course, there is a limit, and I would much rather accommodate those following the process, with genuine refugee status over those illegally entering our country for mainly economic purposes.
It is important we balance our desire to provide a sanctuary with our ability to manage at a local level. There will undoubtedly be pressures on both public services and council housing that will need to be considered. I know many Labour MPs wish for us to look at Germany when taking in more, but after the fiasco with their chaotic open-door policy not based on co-operation, I will not take lessons from them.
I struggle to pin down exactly what they honestly expect us to do? Would they stay militarily involved permanently or go back in?
What is clear to me is that the situation in Afghanistan must be acted upon quickly if we are to remove those most vulnerable from the threat of the Taliban. I know our forces are still carrying out vital operations to remove these individuals and I know the government is doing all it can to support these operations. I welcome the considered points made by the Home Secretary in the resettlement programme announced this week and I know that UK will play its part.