Even as the last of the United States' evacuation planes left Afghan soil after 20 years of in the war-ravaged country, the Boris Johnson leg government in the United Kingdom has amped up efforts to bring back remaining UK nationals and those working with the country from Afghanistan. The government is reportedly in talks with the Taliban to secure safe passage of the evacuees under "Operation Warm Welcome".
As per Downing Street on Wednesday, top UK officials are allegedly holding talks with "senior" level Taliban members in Doha, Qatar. Incidentally, the Indian envoy to Qatar Deepak Mittal on Tuesday also met Taliban leader Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai in Doha in the first high-level contact between the two sides. The talks coincided with the day the US completed the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.
The Ministry of External Affairs said Ambassador Mittal raised India's concern at the meeting that Afghanistan's soil should not be used for anti-Indian activities and terrorism in any manner. As per reports, the MEA said that the meeting took place upon insistence from the Taliban.
For the UK, however, the Taliban is not the only focus. Britain is also sending 15 "crisis response specialists" to neighbouring Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to assist British diplomats in their work to allow people to reach the UK via third countries.
The focus is on helping UK nationals, interpreters and other Afghans who were employed by the UK.
"The Prime Minister's special representative for Afghan transition, Simon Gass, has travelled to Doha and is meeting with senior Taliban representatives to underline the importance of safe passage out of Afghanistan for British nationals, and those Afghans who have worked with us over the past 20 years," a Downing Street spokesperson said.
The move follows the exit of NATO troops from the region to meet the August 31 deadline, but the Taliban have agreed to allow further evacuations.
Meanwhile, Downing Street said that a significant cross-government effort is underway as “Operation Warm Welcome”, to ensure Afghans arriving in the UK receive the vital support they need to rebuild their lives, find work, pursue education and integrate into their local communities.
Under the plan, those coming to the UK through resettlement routes would receive immediate indefinite leave to remain (ILR).
“We owe an immense debt to those who worked with the Armed Forces in Afghanistan and I am determined that we give them and their families the support they need to rebuild their lives here in the UK,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“I know this will be an incredibly daunting time, but I hope they will take heart from the wave of support and generosity already expressed by the British public,” he said.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel announced on Wednesday that the new ILR measures will apply to Afghans who worked closely with the British military and UK government in Afghanistan and risked their lives in doing so, meaning they can now stay in the UK without any time restrictions.
“We owe a great deal to the brave Afghans who worked alongside us and we want to make sure they have certainty and stability to be able to thrive in the UK,” said Patel.
“As part of the New Plan for Immigration, I committed to providing refugees who make their home here the ability to rebuild their lives in the UK with essential support to integrate into the community, learn English, and become self-sufficient," she said.
"By providing immediate indefinite leave to remain we are ensuring that those who have fled their homes have every opportunity to look to the future with stability and security and make a success of their new life in the UK,” she added.
People already relocated to the UK under the Afghanistan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) will be able to apply free of charge to convert their temporary leave to remain in the UK for five years into indefinite leave.
This is intended to give Afghans fleeing the Taliban “certainty and stability” to rebuild their lives with unrestricted rights to work and the option to apply for British citizenship in the future.
The government is also making at least 12 million pounds available to prioritise additional school places so children can be enrolled as soon as possible and to provide school transport, specialist teachers and English language support to assist with learning.
Further funding will be provided for up to 300 undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships for Afghans at UK universities and adults will also be able to access English language courses free of charge.
“This support package will help Afghan evacuees start a new life in the UK and I’m proud we are providing 3 million pounds to ensure they receive the healthcare they need,” said UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
“This includes access to prescriptions, wound care and dressings, maternity care, mental health support and screening for infectious diseases. We will also offer the protection of a COVID-19 vaccination as they settle and rebuild,” he said.
Families who need support navigating the system will also have access to liaison officers who can work with local authorities to help them get set up with a GP, National Insurance number, school place, accommodation and more tailored support, as required.
“Operation Warm Welcome is a huge effort across government to make sure that those fleeing Afghanistan are able to make a success of a new life in the UK,” added UK's Afghan Resettlement Minister Victoria Atkins.
“The stability of indefinite leave, the security of access to healthcare and the opportunity of education are the foundation upon which those resettled to the UK can build,” she said.
While many refugees will speak English through their work with the UK government and British forces, and as translators, extra language classes will be on offer for their family members to help them integrate into their local communities in different parts of Britain.
(With inputs from PTI)