UK urges other countries to take Afghan refugees as 'no empty planes arriving from Afghanistan'

  • Afghans and British nationals arrive in the UK on an evacuation flight

The UK is encouraging its allies to work together to take in Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban regime, as the defence secretary assured that the UK has not sent a single plane home from Afghanistan empty.

Up to 20,000 Afghans will be taken up in the UK's resettlement scheme, with 5,000 due to be accepted in the next 12 months, the government announced on Wednesday.

Downing Street has called its offer "one of the most generous asylum schemes in British history", although Labour has disputed this claim.

The UK will be urging other nations to follow its lead as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab speaks with other G7 ministers on Thursday. The virtual meeting next week will include representatives from the US, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy.

A No 10 spokeswoman said: “We are now asking our international partners to match the UK’s commitments and work with us to offer a lifeline to Afghanistan’s most vulnerable people.”

Afghan refugees arriving at a Midlands Airport. Credit: Leading Rate Shread

It comes as Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said no planes are arriving into the UK from Afghanistan empty.

Responding to reports that evacuation flights to other countries had left Kabul with only a handful of people on board, Mr Wallace told Times Radio: “Our people are getting through, we haven’t sent a single empty plane home.

“And I don’t think many other nations have. I can’t speak for other nations, obviously, but fundamentally, the key here is when we have a plane if we have a single empty seat, we will offer it to other nations.

“We’ve taken out interpreters who work for Nato, for example, we’ve taken out fellow European or other… we took some Japanese people out recently who were in need, so we will use every space on our planes possible.”

Afghans disembark an evacuation flight that arrived in the UK in August 2021. Credit: PA

A plane chartered by the Ministry of Defence arrived at a Midlands airport on Wednesday, carrying Afghans and British Nationals who were based in Afghanistan.

Mr Raab has spoken with his counterparts in India and the US on Wednesday evening. It was the second time he has spoken to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week.

The foreign secretary is under fire as it was reported that help for Afghan interpreters who had supported British troops was delayed because Mr Raab was on holiday in Crete and unable to make a phone call.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is facing criticism over his decision to go on holiday while the Taliban was advancing in Afghanistan Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

According to the Daily Mail, Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office officials suggested Mr Raab call Afghan foreign minister Hanif Atmar on Friday – two days before the Taliban marched on Kabul – only for him to be “unavailable” while on holiday.

The paper claimed Afghanistan's foreign ministry then refused to arrange a call with a junior minister, pushing it back to the next day, losing crucial time before the Taliban seized control of Kabul on Sunday.

The Foreign Office said: “The Foreign Secretary was engaged on a range of other calls and this one was delegated to another minister”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was also said to have also been away in Somerset.

Both politicians' decisions to go away on holiday came under scrutiny during a Commons debate on Wednesday as Parliament was recalled from its summer break for MPs and peers to debate the Afghanistan situation.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told MPs: “You cannot co-ordinate an international response from the beach.”

Downing Street said the Prime Minister would be focusing on efforts to support the Afghan people, as well as the refugee crisis.

However, shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy told BBC’s Question Time it was “absolutely clear that 5,000 is too small a number over the next 12 months” and called for a “more generous offer” to be made.

Foreign nationals as well as Afghans are arrive in the UK on Tuesday evening. Credit: PA

Downing Street has already announced it would double the aid money for Afghanistan to £286 million.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said the money would not be given to the Taliban, and instead it will be given to the United Nations (UN) and other NGOs (non-governmental organisations).

Mr Johnson and US President Joe Biden were both criticised for the handling of Afghanistan during the emergency debate in Parliament.

The prime minister defended his decision to pull out British troops, saying it was an “illusion” to think the mission could have continued without US forces.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May accused Mr Johnson of hoping “on a wing and a prayer it’d be all right on the night” once the US and its allies had withdrawn from Afghanistan.

In his first interview since the Taliban took over control of Afghanistan, US President Joe Biden said there wasn’t anything his administration could’ve done to avoid the chaos witnessed in Kabul over the last few days.

Speaking to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Mr Biden pushed back against criticism that the US should have done more to plan for the evacuation and withdrawal.

Mr Johnson said the government had so far evacuated 306 UK nationals and 2,052 Afghans.

The British ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, said foreign office staff are hoping to get “at least” 1,000 people out of the country every day – but warned there are “days, not weeks” left to complete the mission.