Boris Johnson: UK's job now is integrating Afghans

PM says Nato airlift is nearing its end amid security alert at Kabul airport

Boris Johnson arrives for a visit at the British Armed Forces Northwood Headquarters. Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

Helping Afghan refugees to build a home in Britain is the country’s next key task as the Kabul airlift reaches its end, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

Mr Johnson said little time remained for the Nato rescue mission as troops prepare to leave Afghanistan by August 31.

The window was shut further by a security alert at the airport. The UK and US told people to avoid the terminal because of fears of a terrorist attack.

Britain said the advice was based on intelligence that an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan was planning to target the airport.

Mr Johnson said most vulnerable Afghans who served Nato troops during the 20-year mission had already been taken to safety.

“We’re coming now towards the end of this phase in any event, in the sense that we’ve already airlifted out of Afghanistan a huge number of people,” he said.

“We owe them a debt. They’re people who looked after our armed forces, helped for the 20 years of the UK’s engagement in Afghanistan.

“The real job now is to make sure that they have the housing, they have the skills, they have the opportunity to integrate into our society.”

Many Afghans left their homes carrying only a bag on their back and rely on donations of food, clothes and sanitary products.

Care4Calais, a charity set up six years ago to help asylum seekers in France hoping to reach Britain, said it had been overwhelmed with donations after an appeal by Manchester City Council.

A refugee support manager at the British Red Cross said an “avalanche of love” from the public was helping the charity support those in need of help.

The charity’s staff and volunteers have been welcoming new arrivals at airports and providing basic items such as warm clothing and hygiene kits.

Red Cross teams are supporting families in Heathrow, Leicester, Chelmsford, Colchester, Hertfordshire, Southampton, Hampshire, Derby, Cheshire, Birmingham, Brize Norton, and Wrexham.

Manchester, the UK’s third-largest city, is currently home to approximately 1,000 displaced Afghans. West and North Yorkshire, Hertfordshire and a handful of other counties are housing hundreds of refugees.

“There’s hundreds of people who have arrived in the UK with their families fresh from a harrowing journey, leaving behind homes and loved ones in uncertainty,” said the refugee manager, Edmore Hute.

“First and foremost, we are providing kindness and reassurance that they are in a safe place, in a place of safety. This is vital, especially these first days, during the first hours and days.”

Afghan refugees must isolate for 10 days under the UK’s traffic-light system to limit the spread of Covid-19.

The demand for accommodation means that officials have been forced to put refugees up in hotels across the UK. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has unveiled plans to help local councils buy homes that could be used to resettle Afghan families.

One of Britain's largest care providers announced on Thursday that it would train 500 Afghan refugees to work as carers.

Cera, which has 70 offices in England, Scotland and Wales, hopes to recruit the refugees arriving under Britain's resettlement programme over the next five years.

Ministers say this scheme, which is separate to the evacuation of Afghan personnel who worked for Nato forces, will cover 20,000 people. Critics say it should be more generous.

The Afghans who have arrived so far are among more than 15,000 people flown to the UK during the Nato evacuation.

US, British and other Nato troops have guarded the airport amid chaotic scenes in Kabul as desperate Afghans try to flee the Taliban.

Mr Johnson declined to endorse a suggestion by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace that Afghans should head to neighbouring countries instead.

He said that Britain hoped to use political and financial pressure on the Taliban to keep the door open for commercial flights after August 31.

Some Afghan bank accounts were blocked after the fall of Kabul. G7 nations have linked co-operation with the Taliban to several other demands, including that Afghanistan must not become a hub for terrorists as it was before 9/11.

“We hope very much that the Taliban will understand that there’s got to be a reasonable approach to people who still want to leave Afghanistan,” Mr Johnson said.

“If they want to engage with development aid, if they want to unlock those billions of funds, if they want to have a diplomatic or political relationship with the outside world, then safe passage for those who want to come out is the key precondition.”

Updated: August 26, 2021, 2:16 PM