Afghanistan: We must help the victims of this disastrous war - Lorna Slater

By any definition, the war in Afghanistan has been a disaster. More than 200,000 people have been killed, including tens of thousands of civilians and thousands of military personnel, including 457 from the UK.

Tuesday, 24th August 2021, 7:00 am
British and American troops help in the evacuation of eligible civilians and their families out of Afghanistan

Some estimates say that the war has cost over $2 trillion. Just think how much good could have been done with this money. According to a German government-backed study, it would cost £330 billion to end world hunger by 2030. This is a massive sum, but a fraction of what has been spent on this war.

Despite their claims of moderation and change, the Taliban absolutely cannot be trusted when it comes to human rights. The fact that so many girls were able to go to school for the first time has transformed so many young lives. And now those women are among those that are most at risk.

That is why the international community needs to act. The UK has pledged to allow 20,000 Afghan refugees to settle here over five years. This commitment is welcome, but it doesn't go far enough. The focus has to be on people's needs rather than arbitrary numbers. And the timing is crucial – most people do not have five years to wait.

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I was glad to see the cross-party commitment from Edinburgh City Council to welcome and support Afghan refugees. It sets an important precedent for other towns and cities to follow. We have several excellent refugee charities here in Scotland, such as the Scottish Refugee Council and the Refugee Survival Trust, and I have no doubt that they will open their doors as well as their hearts.

But it cannot be left to charities and councils. It needs the support of government. Since the war began in 2001 the Home Office has refused over 32,000 applications for asylum from Afghans. If it is to extend a hand of friendship and support, then warm words need to be backed up by actions. Yet, last year saw aid to Afghanistan being cut by three quarters.

Immigration policy lies with Westminster rather than the Scottish Parliament, but last week my Green colleagues Maggie Chapman and Ross Greer urged the Scottish Government to use its Humanitarian Emergency Fund to aid people who are fleeing the Taliban. Unfortunately, it is hard to envisage a greater humanitarian emergency.

The short-term priority must be to help as many people as we can. But in the long term there are vital lessons that need to be learnt by our leaders. No longer can we have a foreign policy based on military interventionism and “forever wars”.

The war on terror began with the horrors of 9/11. The consequences of that terrible day and the wars that followed are still with us today and will be with us for many years to come.

George Bush, Tony Blair and other leaders told us that this war would “liberate women”. But it has ended with reports of mothers desperately passing their babies over barbed wire and begging soldiers to take them away.

The situation is urgent, and lives are at risk. The people of Afghanistan have been failed time and again. We cannot let it happen again.

Lorna Slater is a Green MSP for Lothian