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Government on course to repeat Afghanistan evacuation mistakes in Ukraine, MPs warn

The UK didn’t do enough to evacuate aid workers from Afghanistan, MPs said, and early signs show similar mistakes could be made regarding people in Ukraine.

Government failures in Afghanistan which put lives at risk could be repeated in Ukraine, according to a damning new report.

MPs on the international development committee said they felt “ashamed” of the UK’s lacklustre support efforts for humanitarian workers and starving Afghan people in the wake of the Taliban’s rapid takeover in August.

And ministers have already displayed an “inflexible and begrudging” approach to the Ukraine crisis since Russian forces began their invasion, the report said.

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MPs found the government did not provide adequate support to aid workers in Afghanistan who needed help to evacuate – some of whom now report their lives are at risk because of their links to UK projects – and its distribution of promised cash aid has been “excruciatingly slow”. They also said sanctions against the Taliban stifle the support available for women, children and minority groups.

“We are deeply grateful to aid workers – be they British, Afghan or of other nationalities – for all they have done for the people of Afghanistan,” said Sarah Champion, Labour MP and committee chair.

“But we are ashamed that the government did not give them the support that they needed during the UK’s withdrawal, or now, during the complex task of delivering an aid programme under Taliban rule.

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“More than 23 million people, over half the population of Afghanistan, are facing starvation. The government must provide the support and the clarity that people working in the aid sector in Afghanistan have told us that they need.”

Ministers’ “moral duty” to protect the staff of UK aid projects also extends to the people of Afghanistan after the UK’s military and political interventions impacted their lives “over decades”, the report said.

Champion claimed the government was now “dragging its feet” in setting up safe routes for Ukrainians to flee persecution just as it did in Afghanistan. 

The UK’s “agonising slowness of pace” in its response to the Ukrainian crisis is putting the “safety of countless people and their families” in jeopardy, the committee added.

Amnesty International UK’s Steve Valdez-Symonds described the response to the Russian invasion as “ill-prepared, begrudging and confused”, indicating a “dreadful attitude at the heart of the government towards this country’s shared international responsibilities”.

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While the necessary humanitarian response in Afghanistan was “unprecedented”, the report said, aid workers felt “abandoned” by the UK government.

“The failures of Afghanistan cannot be allowed to happen again in Ukraine,” said Virendra Sharma, Labour MP for Ealing Southall. “This government continues to underestimate what it needs to do and the timeline they will have available to deliver it.”

A spokesperson for the government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: “We evacuated more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan within a fortnight and have already announced an immigration programme for Ukrainians to come to the UK,” adding that the UK had distributed £261m in Afghanistan in the past year while pledging £220m for Ukraine.

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