Afghanistan: FCDO Update - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:24 pm on 7th September 2021.

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Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 9:24 pm, 7th September 2021

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his kind remarks. On the specifics of his question, there is of course the MPs- and Peers-specific hotline, and so on. I assure him that my approach to testing it is that there is someone within my private office who ensures that at intervals we also ensure that there is efficiency of operation. There is no better way than experiencing it yourself. Those are some of the practices in practical terms that I have deployed.

On the specifics I can share, first, the visits of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary to Pakistan and Qatar and my own visit to Tajikistan in particular but also Uzbekistan have been focused on that specific issue. As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, as regards people appearing with the right documentation—these are British nationals—or indeed others, such as those on the ARAP scheme, we are working out some of the specific details. These countries are extremely concerned—this is why they have sealed their borders—that people will flock to their borders, which will then result in them having a humanitarian crisis not just on the border but within their own country. We have to recognise that. So it is not just about the ask of safe facilitation over the border; that is why we are standing up funding quite specifically to help infrastructure in the different countries in terms of border support.

A specific that has happened is that Pakistan has already announced a 21-day visa, now extended to 30 days, for transit for those people entering the country, but it has also had to close the border it had opened because of concerns. Nevertheless, we are working in close, detailed proximity with these Governments, and our rapid deployment teams are now in position and collating information specifically from those people getting in touch with them, particularly British nationals on the borders, so that we can have an exact list of who is where, to help to facilitate progress across whichever part of the border they come to. However, I say again that we are operating under the added challenge that each of these countries has issued official statements that the borders are sealed. It is a test of our strength of diplomacy as to how we can provide workable solutions that do not alarm those neighbours that may well take the brunt of refugees.

The other issue that I share with my noble friend is that the issue of safe passage means that there needs to be unison and unity with international partners. He will have noticed Secretary of State Blinken in Qatar today, working with the Qataris. One area is to see how we can facilitate access into Kabul airport, not just for humanitarian support but to open up safe passage for those wishing to leave. The Taliban have given the assurance that those wishing to leave—foreign nationals and Afghans—can leave, but the proof is in the pudding, and that is yet to happen.