In the second half of August we saw the British military evacuate more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan. The conclusion of Operation Pitting marked the end of our presence in the country which dates back to 2001. I am grateful to our armed forces who have stepped up, as they always do, to ensure the safety of British nationals, embassy staff and those eligible for asylum in the UK. I am however reminded of the military personnel who lost their lives during the conflict. We should remember them as well as those at the airport who often made desperate attempts to flee their own country. The scenes at Kabul airport were awful.
More than half of the people evacuated by British forces are Afghan nationals. I am sure that MPs’ offices across the country will have been busy helping relatives of those eligible to come to the UK to begin a new life. The situation moved quickly and civil servants, as well as the military, deserve our thanks for helping thousands of people out of Kabul airport to safety. It is important to remember these are people who have fled their home with little or no belongings to start a new life in an unfamiliar country. They are also those who helped our troops in Afghanistan including interpreters. It is right to repay their loyalty.
Five years ago Harrogate Borough Council began resettling Syrian refugees in our community. I am pleased that the council has affirmed its commitment to take more than its quota of Afghans who have recently arrived in the UK. Locally refugees have settled in well and have recently played a part in the response to the pandemic delivering shopping to vulnerable people for example. A few years ago a Sudanese refugee, Abbas Hassan, who lived with foster parents in Harrogate also won a Prince’s Trust award for his achievements at Rossett School. When he first came to the UK he could neither read nor write in English or Arabic. This shows what the impact of having the right support in place can be.
Nationally the Government is providing extra cash for school places, English language learning and scholarships. Those that have come here having risked their life working for our armed forces will be given settled status. This will ensure they are eligible to find a job straight away as well as being able to work towards becoming a British citizen.
Last month I wrote about small actions we can all take to help tackle climate change. This month I have seen the impact of such actions taken by a large number of people to welcome refugees to our community. My inbox has seen emails come in offering help. Some have offered to donate clothing, provide accommodation or to simply give up some of their time to volunteer. Local community groups such as the Harrogate District of Sanctuary tell me they have been overwhelmed by the number of people offering support. I have also read that a family housed in Bilton have already been playing football with local people. These are heartening stories, but are no surprise.
Alongside local groups larger charities such as the British Red Cross are working nationwide to help refugees with their immediate needs when they arrive. They can help people find accommodation, access health services and support them into employment. Our district is a welcoming and tolerant place which I am proud to represent. These people deserve our support and it is good to know that systems are already in place in Harrogate so we can once again help refugees in their time of need as they helped us in ours.