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16 August 2021updated 07 Sep 2021 6:42am

The UK government must repair its disastrous refugee policy

We are retreating from Afghanistan with one hand and closing the door to anyone who might want to do the same with the other.

By Stephen Bush

Is the UK government locking the stable down after the horse has bolted? The Taliban have retaken control of Afghanistan, and MPs and peers will return to parliament on Wednesday 18 August to discuss the situation. MPs across the House of Commons think that all this week’s debate on Afghanistan will do is confirm that there is a howling void marked “Global Britain” where the UK’s foreign policy should be. 

[See also: The Afghan government’s collapse is a humiliation for the United States and Joe Biden]

It’s not as if there is a shortage of things that the British government could be doing in Afghanistan. Much of the focus will be on what we are doing for “our people”: not just Britons in the country, but everyone who assisted with the US-led effort there. Short of sending a minister on air to say, “Well, look, it’s not as if they were very good interpreters”, it’s hard to see how the Home Office response to the crisis could be worse. 

[See also: In Afghanistan, a reviled president is being exposed as powerless]

But it’s not just “our people” who are under threat. Women and girls who took up the new freedom to go to school, get a job and live independent lives might not have worked as interpreters or drivers or assisted the Western intervention in some way or another. But they have as much of a right to want to leave Afghanistan as anyone else: as, indeed, do any of the countless people who have swarmed to the airport in the hope of escaping the country. 

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While the gaps in British foreign policy are unlikely to be filled this week, the government and MPs could at least make a start in repairing our disastrous refugee policy, which means that we are retreating from Afghanistan with one hand and closing the door to anyone who might want to do the same with the other. 

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[See also: Diary: Witnessing the last days of Ashraf Ghani’s Afghanistan]