I add my voice to the thanks expressed around the House and across the country to officials in the various departments—the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office—for the work they have done over the last few weeks in this ghastly episode; it continues to be a ghastly episode. Their conduct of affairs which have been very difficult has been outstanding and I thank them for that. I also extend my thanks to the two heroes of this terrible episode. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence’s management of Operation Pitting, dreadful though that was, has been outstanding, and I thank him for that. I also thank my noble friend the Minister, who has conducted himself outstandingly over the last couple of weeks particularly. I know that he has been fielding texts and emails from colleagues in this House and the other place and far more widely at all hours of the day and night to the best of his ability and with great good humour—I cannot imagine that he got much sleep—while travelling the world, trying to sort this mess out. I thank him for that.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about some of the groups who are particularly at risk in Afghanistan. I too would like to think about those, and in doing so will not think about the past and what happened, although we will need to talk about that further again in the future. More importantly, I want to think about the present and the future and what we can do now. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about groups who are at risk, and I think particularly of professional Afghan women—women with professional qualifications, who are apparently not very popular in Kabul at the moment—and what we can do to help them and, indeed, their families. My noble friend the Minister talked about the steps we are going to take, and I would like to focus on two areas in particular: first, how will we help them across the border and, secondly, can we help them with paperwork?
I am aware that one of the issues at the moment has been that those who have been able to get to the borders, many of which are closed, have not been able to persuade people in the neighbouring countries—Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and other places—that they will not stay in those countries. They do not want vast numbers of refugees, but those people are in transit, moving on. What can my noble friend tell us today about how we can make sure that when those people go to those borders, they have the necessary paperwork from our officials to allow them to get into transit and to come on? I realise that some of those people will be not very good people who should not have that paperwork, but an awful lot of them need help, so I wonder what my noble friend can say. Also, how can he make that advice available and communicate it so that the people in that country and others in this country who are trying to help them can pass it on? At the moment, information seems to be limited, and the more we can communicate what we are trying to do, the better.