The Brecon & Radnorshire Liberal Democrats are urging the UK Government to take urgent steps to admit more refugees from Afghanistan after the rapid NATO withdrawal from the country and takeover by the Taliban.
Britain saw 457 military personnel die (including 32 from Wales) in the 20-year conflict.
2, 448 American personnel died, as well as 1, 144 from other NATO and allied countries. Approximately 69, 000 Afghan troops have been killed.
The total figure for Afghans who have died in the war is unknown, but Brown University estimates the number to stand above 100, 000.
According to the UN, between 2012 and 2021, at least five million people have been internally displaced within Afghanistan or neighbouring countries, with many millions more displaced in the past few weeks.
Despite the horrific violence and losses, Afghanistan has seen remarkable economic and social development since 2001; with infant mortality rates more than halving, 15, 000 more schools being opened, and access to electricity, internet and media becoming nearly universal in Kabul and other major cities.
There are currently 9.7 million children enrolled in Afghan schools with 42% being girls.
30% of elected Afghan MPs are women (compared with 34% in the UK).
The Taliban, as well as Islamist terrorist groups such as ISIS, Al Qaeda and others were – clearly - far from defeated, but their presence had been largely contained to rural areas.
Many of these achievements now look highly fragile or have already begun to be reversed.
Commenting, Jane Dodds, Welsh Liberal Democrat MS for Mid and West Wales, who previously led the children’s section of the Refugee Council, said:
“The situation in Afghanistan is a moral stain on Britain, America, and the West in general.
“The images coming out of Kabul underline how we have failed to protect some of the most vulnerable people and left women and girls across Afghanistan to a violent, oppressive regime. We owe it to the Afghan people to admit as many refugees as possible – and we need to do it now.
“In particular, we need to scale up our operations to evacuate Afghans who have worked directly with or for the British Army, Ministry of Defence, and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
“However, we cannot stop there. Millions will be fearing for their lives, not least women’s rights activists, teachers, civil servants and charity workers. The UK needs to work with international allies to secure safe escape routes for Afghan refugees.
“In 2017, the Home Office authorised deportation of gay Afghan asylum seekers and issued guidance that stated “it may be a safe and viable option for a gay man to relocate to Kabul.” The Taliban now control Kabul and have a history of executing gay people. LGBT Afghans must be considered in UK plans to admit refugees from Afghanistan.
“While this power is ultimately reserved to Westminster, Wales should be prepared to do its bit and provide assistance to Afghans fleeing the Taliban, making good on the Welsh Government’s promise to be a nation of sanctuary. Wales has a proud history of helping those in need and we should not shy away from that heritage now. We must fulfill our duty and embrace those who are seeking sanctuary, providing security, housing and healthcare, especially to children and families.”
James Gibson-Watt, Councillor for Glasbury and Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats on Powys County Council, added:
“I am pleased that Powys County Council have already offered three Afghan families resettlement in our county.
“Hay, Brecon, and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees are local people doing amazing work to support refugees and asylum seekers in our communities. Please do email [email protected] to find out more about how you can donate or get involved.
“We know that recent days have also been particularly distressing for many former and current military personnel, who have served in Afghanistan and sacrificed so much for our country, as well as military families.
“Combat Stress is offering a free and confidential 24/7 Military Mental Health Helpline service on 0800 323 4444. The Royal British Legion is also providing support on 0808 802 8080.”