“The war has cost the United States $1 trillion & this country tens of billions of pounds. It has cost the lives of tens of thousands of Afghan people.”Jeremy Corbyn MP
In this sombre and very serious debate, there are two fundamental points I want to make. First, we have all been inundated overnight and in the past couple of days with emails from constituents and many others who are very worried about the plight of those who are trying to get out of Afghanistan, the numbers of people who ought to be supported and the approach that the British Government have taken. Members will have seen letters from the National Union of Journalists concerning journalists and their safety, from the University College Union concerning their students in this country and their fears, and from many, many others, including people representing trade unions in Afghanistan.
As well as that, I ask the Government clearly what their strategy is for allowing people to come to this country, because it is clear that all those who have worked for the British Army or any other organisation in Afghanistan should be allowed to come here. That is the case, likewise, for non-governmental organisations, but I would add to that those who have worked for contractors that have been contracted to the British or American services. They will be just as vulnerable in the future.
If we are serious about ensuring that all those refugees who wish to come here are able to get in, the Government have to do two things. First, they should respond to the very generous offers made by a lot of local authorities—I saw a letter last night from the leaders of Labour London borough councils—of doing everything they can to support refugees coming to this country. However, they need financial support to be able to house those people, accommodate them and ensure that they can be integrated into our society. There must also be a change in the Government’s rhetoric about refugees in general. We cannot hold out a hand and say that we are going to welcome all the Afghan refugees here—I hope we do—when, at the same time, we are passing legislation that will criminalise those who save the lives at sea of people trying to get to this country, a place of safety. If we are an open society that welcomes refugees, we should mean that wherever refugees come from—not just Afghanistan. I hope the Government will bear that in mind and give us a clear outline of how people will get out of Afghanistan, how they will get here and how they will be processed when they get here.
Too many of us represent constituencies where refugees who do not have enough support are living. They are begging, homeless and street-sleeping while their applications are endlessly processed. That is not the sign of a society or a Government who are holding out a hand of friendship towards refuges.
The war has cost the United States $1 trillion and this country tens of billions of pounds. It has cost the lives of tens of thousands of Afghan people. It has driven many of them into asylum or refugee status in all the neighbouring countries. It has taken the lives of American soldiers, and soldiers of almost every other nationality that got involved, including 457 British soldiers. At the end of it, the trauma of those who served there and were injured there, and the mental health issues that pertain for soldiers coming out of service, are huge and likely to be exacerbated by what has happened over the past few days. We need to ensure there is proper support for those who have served and suffered in Afghanistan, and we also need a serious appraisal of how we got there in the first place.
Any examination of the longer-term history of Afghanistan will show that wars there fail. There were three in the 19th century and a number later. The great game of the 19th century was about preventing Russia from getting control of Afghanistan. Later, the cold war took over and the Americans supported the opposition to the Soviet Union, thus forming the mujaheddin, which morphed into the Taliban and so much else. There are some serious historical lessons to be learned about how we take major foreign policy decisions. It is beyond disappointing that the Prime Minister’s response this morning appeared to be that he is not prepared to countenance a serious inquiry into all this.
I can hear my friend, the late Paul Flynn, speaking about the number of soldiers who died in Helmand. I can hear all those who spoke up against the intervention, not because they supported the Taliban and not because they were not serious about human rights, but because they were serious about a long-term peace in a world that recognises the historical position that we have got ourselves into. Now surely is the time for a sober reflection on the disaster that has happened in Afghanistan.
- We are pleased to replublish Jeremy Corbyn’s speech in the debate on Afghanistan in Parliament on August 18. Source Hansard.