During a visit to Heathrow’s Terminal 4 Home Secretary Priti Patel is once again promising to create safe routes of passage to the UK in order to discourage thousands of Afghan refugees from attempting to cross the English Channel in small boats.
As part of the UKs withdrawal from Afghanistan before 31 August and to help those who do not escape by this date, the Home Secretary has said that the UK is ‘dedicated’ to helping those who are left behind, saying that crossing the Channel with people smugglers is ‘exactly what they want to avoid’.
She went on to say: “We want to avoid that because it clearly puts families in grave danger. The world has seen this in the Syria crisis. In 2015 thousands of people were dying in the Mediterranean while attempting to make this dangerous journey whilst in the hands of people traffickers and people smugglers who have no regard for safety.
The Home Secretary continued to say that the Government is “absolutely dedicated and committed” to making sure people who do not escape Afghanistan ahead of the withdrawal are able to make safe journeys to resettle in the UK. She said “Those individuals who do not get out, there is huge work taking place right now, the Prime Minister said that we will supply safe passage”.
Heathrow has been used as a refugee processing centre since Tuesday, with between five and six flights a day carrying more than 1,000 refugee passengers between them arriving at Terminal 4. Other airports being used in the UK’s evacuation effort, known as Operation Pitting, include Birmingham and Brize Norton. Priti Patel said that ‘vigorous’ checks are being carried out on all Afghans arriving in the UK to prevent any security threats.
Once processed by Border Force at Heathrow, the refugees are asked to quarantine for 10 days at a hotel as part of Covid health security measures, because Afghanistan is currently on the travel red list.
The Home Secretary met Afghans arriving at Heathrow during her visit, and one family told Ms Patel about their journey to Kabul airport after being allowed to settle in the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap).
Ms Patel defended the UK’s record on resettling Afghans after hearing of the difficulties faced travelling to Kabul airport. She said the emergency has concentrated the need, with the Taliban coming in but also the securitisation of the airport with security partners around the world, and America in particular.
“Our relocation programme has been ongoing but with the security picture changing, the intelligence picture changing, the Taliban being on the move and coming right on to Kabul has had an intensified effect. It is the itensification of that effect that basically has led to the evacuation and we are seeing thousands of people coming in every single day”.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow home secretary described Ms Patel’s promises of safe passage after the evacuation from Kabul ends as ‘like trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted’. He added: “The appalling mishandling in the collapse in Afghanistan by Conservative ministers has left huge numbers of lives at risk and a potential humanitarian crisis. The lack of planning to get people at risk out is unforgivable, given it has been 18 months since the Doha deal”.
“We still don’t know when these supposed safe routes will open or how people fearing for their lives will be able to access help once the airport closes, and the military has left. It is a dangerous mess, ministers should take responsibility and outline plans immediately”.