Britain will house an additional 20,000 Afghans stranded in their country after they negotiate a safe passage out, the prime minister has confirmed.
But on Monday Boris Johnson promised that in addition to the 15,000 already airlifted out of Kabul, the UK would give another 20,000 indefinite leave to remain in Britain if they can get out of the region.
“The UK is formally launching a separate resettlement programme providing a safe and legal route to 20,000 Afghans in the region over the coming years, with 5,000 in the first year,” Mr Johnson told the House of Commons. “We are upholding Britain's finest tradition of welcoming those in need and I emphasise that under the scheme we will work with the UN and other agencies to identify those we should help.”
He also promised that any person the British government had made a commitment to protect who was currently in Afghanistan would be helped to escape Taliban rule.
“We are working urgently with our friends in the region to secure safe passage and as soon as routes are available we will do everything possible to help you to reach safety,” he told Parliament.
Mr Johnson also admitted that were 311 Afghans who qualified for evacuation under the official British relocation scheme - the vast majority of them interpreters - who risked being punished by the Taliban.
Those to be given a new home in Britain will include Afghans who have contributed to civil society “who face a particular risk from the Taliban”. This would include people under threat for standing up for human rights “or because of their gender or sexuality or religion”, Mr Johnson said.
The Afghan migrants would also be given free English courses and 300 university scholarships.
His statement to Parliament had been overshadowed after a defence minister mistakenly suggested that a colleague who had served with in Afghanistan had taken his life.
However, James Heappey, who served with 2 Rifles infantry regiment in Helmand, had to humiliatingly withdraw his assertion after admitting it was a mistake.
His comments were made as the government attempted to highlight £5 million ($6m) in extra spending on the mental health of the 150,000 British service personnel who served in Afghanistan.
Following Mr Johnson’s statement to the Commons many MPs raised concerns over the increased terrorist threat as a result of the Taliban victory, including from ISIS and Al Qaeda.
Keir Starmer, the Labour Party leader, insisted the government had to act quickly “to co-ordinate international partners to ensure the Afghan government’s collapse does not lead to a vacuum for terrorists to fill”.
Former prime minister Theresa May also raised concerns over the terror threat, asking Mr Johnson to confirm that those working in counterterrorism would be given “the necessary support to ensure they can keep us safe”.
While assuring MPs there was no direct information of any imminent threat, Mr Johnson promised that “every effort will be made to make sure that counter-terrorist agents have the resources they need to keep us safe”.