The events of the last few days in Afghanistan have been deeply shocking. It is a conflict which has impacted, and continues to impact, on our community in many different ways. There are veterans who served with bravery and distinction, some of whom lost their lives or were injured. Some of those, and their families, will be saddened and angry at the turn of events in recent days. If you know someone who fought, or had a loved one who fought, do reach out to them. There is a programme, called ‘Operation Courage’, which provides specialist medical and mental health support for our veteran community. There are numerous charities and friendship groups which recognise that sacrifice doesn’t finish when a tour of duty ends.
Then there are the serving soldiers, pilots and special forces who have gone to get UK citizens and eligible Afghans out of the country. They have flown into a tense, dangerous and volatile situation to do their duty. What an extraordinary year of duty it has been for our armed forces – from vaccines and testing, to clearing Dover after the border closures, to conflict and evacuation.
Then there are those who have arrived as refugees in our area and have settled here. I have been dealing with cases of utmost urgency where people who have been given indefinite leave to remain in the UK or have British passports have left family, including young children, behind in Afghanistan and are now scrambling to get them out.
In recent years our county has taken in hundreds of young Afghans. Under 18s have been looked after by Kent County Council and in foster and care homes around Kent. In spite of promises made by MPs across the country this week when Parliament was recalled, this has not been an obligation where many of those MPs or their councils have stepped up in the way Kent has done. That needs to change. This is a national response, and it needs the nation as a whole to share the responsibility for housing, providing healthcare, social services, training, skills, language and trauma support for those in need.
I strongly welcome the humanitarian response to provide safe and legal passage to Afghan refugees, alongside safe places near to those conflict zones, as was successfully done by the UK for the Syrian conflict. But the reality has been that more people have come in through illegal routes than legal ones. That’s not acceptable. I have been speaking to the Home Secretary again about taking firmer action to put an end to the dangerous and illegal Channel crossings. This is necessary if we want to see people looked after properly and responsibly near places of conflict, and in order to ensure those most vulnerable and in need of our assistance are fast-tracked into our country.
Global leadership brings global responsibility. In relation to Afghanistan the events will cast a long shadow for many years to come.