Leeds MP's praise city's 'big heart' during Parliament Afghanistan discussion

Two Leeds MPs have praised the city’s “big heart” and have assured Parliament that the district stands ready to take Afghan refugees into temporary accommodation.

By Richard Beecham
Thursday, 19th August 2021, 6:28 am
Updated Thursday, 19th August 2021, 6:32 am

It follows an announcement from the Home Office that the UK was prepared to welcome 10,000 Afghan refugees during this year, with a total of 20,000 “in the long term”.

The announcement comes amid the Taliban’s takeover of the country, which followed the withdrawal of NATO troops in the area. Harrowing pictures had emerged this week from Kabul Airport, showing Afghan civilians desperately trying to flee the country.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel (Lab) said: “Our council in Leeds has already said it is standing ready to take people in temporary accommodation from Afghanistan, but we need safe routes across the land borders.

Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn (Lab) said: "The people of Leeds, the city of Leeds, has always had a big heart, and we will play our part.”

“There needs to be safe passages from those third countries to the UK.”

Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn (Lab) added: “I agree completely and the people of Leeds, the city of Leeds, has always had a big heart, and we will play our part.”

Parliament had been recalled to discuss the unfolding situation in Afghanistan, with Boris Johnson facing fierce criticism from senior Tories and others.

In a packed Commons chamber, the Prime Minister defended the final pull-out of British troops, saying it was an “illusion” to think the international military mission could have continued without US forces. But he faced cries of disbelief when he denied the Government had been unprepared for the lightning takeover by the Taliban which saw the Western-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani collapse in days.

Ahead of the debate, the Home Office had set out plans to resettle 20,000 vulnerable Afghans, particularly women and girls, with 5,000 arriving in the first 12 months.

Mr Johnson told MPs: “First our immediate focus must be on helping those to whom we have direct obligations by evacuating UK nationals together with those Afghans who have assisted our efforts over the past 20 years .

“I can tell the House that we have so far... secured the safe return of 306 UK nationals and 2,052 Afghan nationals as part of our resettlement programme, with a further 2,000 Afghan applications completed and many more being processed. UK officials are working round the clock to keep the exit door open in the most difficult circumstances and actively seeking those we believe are eligible but as yet unregistered.”

Posting on Twitter, Leeds East MP Richard Burgon said: “The assistance that Boris Johnson just announced for the Afghan people is truly pathetic. It’s worth less than one per cent of the £37bn the UK spent on this horrendous war.

“Proper humanitarian support for the Afghan people is the least we owe after the devastation of the UK intervention.”

In an emotional speech which drew rare applause from some MPs, Tory Tom Tugendhat – who served as an Army officer in Afghanistan – said the UK and its Western allies had received a “very harsh lesson”.

“This doesn’t need to be defeat but at the moment it damn well feels like it,” he said.

Mr Johnson said ministers had considered the possible options when the US said it intended to withdraw, but they came up against the “hard reality” that there was no will among allies to continue without the Americans.

In a statement earlier this week, Leeds City Council said it was already working alongside other councils across the region as part of the current Afghan relocation scheme, co-ordinated by

Migration Yorkshire, and would consider any further proposals put forward by the Government.

Mr Benn told the Commons: “There are some immediate priorities to address. The first is to get people out – British citizens, and all of those who worked with us and supported us over 20 years to whom we owe a debt. We have an obligation to them, and we have to help them resettle because they are in fear of their lives.”

He said the nation had a “long and proud tradition of offering help to those in crisis”, adding: “In the longer term, we need to reflect on how this happened and what lessons we can learn, but that is for tomorrow.

“Today’s task is to help those who are living in fear because of the return of the Taliban.

“We all remember what they did the last time they were in control of Afghanistan.”