THE UK GOVERNMENT failed to work effectively or quickly enough to provide support for aid workers and the Afghan people, says a new report from the International Development Committee, Afghanistan: UK support for aid workers and the Afghan people.

Furthermore, the Committee is concerned about the pace at which the UK Government has disbursed pledged UK aid to Afghanistan and whether it will act swiftly enough to disburse pledged UK aid to Ukraine.

MPs say that the UK Government, in its response to Afghanistan and now Ukraine, has:

  • been inflexible in its response to an acute humanitarian situation by only making limited concessionsbto pre-existing UK immigration routes;
  • failed to provide sufficient clarity on what routes are available.
  • dragged its feet in setting up new or variations to existing routes.

The UK Government has a moral duty towards aid workers who helped to deliver UK aid projects in Afghanistan, asserts the report. This moral duty also extends to the people of Afghanistan, impacted over decades by the UK’s military and political interventions.

The Chair of the International Development Committee, Sarah Champion MP, said: “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. The work that they do is phenomenal.

“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.

“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.”

The Chair draws parallels with the developing situation in Ukraine. She said: “By only making limited concessions to pre-existing UK immigration routes, the response from the Home Office to the situation in Ukraine shows an inflexible and begrudging approach to an acute humanitarian situation. As in Afghanistan, there has been a lack of clarity – and agonizing slowness of pace – in explaining what UK immigration routes are available. The UK Government should be significantly more agile in establishing or adapting existing UK immigration routes in response to acute humanitarian crises. The safety of countless people and their families depends on it.”

UK and allied forces left Afghanistan in August 2021. The Taliban takeover was rapid. The scale of the humanitarian response required, had – to that date – been unprecedented. The humanitarian jeopardy has been extreme. At the same time, the safety of aid workers has been compromised. The cross-party Committee thanked aid workers for all their work, past and present, and revealed “shame” that the UK Government had not given them the support or clarity that they need.

The Government’s contingency plans for the evacuation of aid workers from Afghanistan were neither apparent to the aid sector, nor scaled adequately. Government schemes have not adequately supported those aid workers seeking safe passage to the UK. The report reveals that some Afghans who worked on projects funded by the UK Government are reporting that their lives are at risk of reprisals from the Taliban authorities.

The UK Government has pledged significant sums of aid since its withdrawal from Afghanistan, but the release of that aid to the people who desperately need it has been excruciatingly slow. A cash liquidity crisis is strangling the remaining life out of the country. Sanctions against the Taliban have stifled the provision of aid and women, children and minority groups are suffering disproportionately.

The Committee concluded that the Government should have worked faster to disburse the UK aid it pledged to Afghanistan in 2021. It should also have liaised more effectively and swiftly with the aid sector, international allies and financial institutions to help to resolve the challenges of sanctions to the aid sector; address the collapse of the banking system in Afghanistan; and free up the nominated funds frozen in the World Bank’s Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund.

Some of the Committee’s key recommendations in respect of aid workers and the Afghan people are:

  • The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office should take steps to better identify and assess the particular risks facing aid workers so that it can respond more effectively to those aid workers when they are in need of support in countries or regions where there is acute instability or signs of a rapidly deteriorating security situation.
  • The government should accelerate without further delay all pathways of the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) and ensure that aid sector staff are explicitly recognised and prioritised for protection under the ACRS.
  • The UK government should be taking more urgent steps to collaborate with its international counterparts, economists, representatives of the banking sector and aid organisations to find ways to help address more rapidly the banking crisis in Afghanistan to ease the humanitarian suffering of, and enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance to, the people of Afghanistan.
  • The UK government should do more to encourage the World Bank to swiftly release the remaining funds from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund so that aid organisations can use that money to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.
  • The Government should maintain its focus on working to try and ensure that the Taliban adopts a moderate position whereby it commits to behaving pragmatically towards the inclusion of women, girls and other minority groups in Afghan society.
  • The UK government should further step up its efforts on working with the UN to ensure that aid organisations can effectively operate under the exemptions that UN resolution 2615 (and consequent UK law) permits. It should also urge the UN Security Council to extend those exemptions beyond their initial 12 months review period.
  • The UK government should consult with representatives of aid organisations to ensure that it has issued adequate guidance on how to operate further to the adoption of UN resolution 2615 into UK law. Furthermore, the UK government should press for UN resolution 2615 to be extended, or further resolutions to be adopted, to provide exemptions for development assistance, closely linked to the performance of the Taliban on upholding human rights and international law.

* Read the full report here.

* Source: International Development Committee