Newcastle City Council to come together in support of our Armed Forces and Afghan refugees
The Labour Party has agreed to support a Liberal Democrats motion on Afghans at the City Council tonight (see bottom)
Cllr Robin Ashby will move it, saying :
Lord Mayor - I am delighted that this is a cross party motion and that Cllr Karen Kilgour, who is also the City Council's Armed Forces Champion will second it. This sends a very important message to our armed forces and the Afghan people we are welcoming - including the collection that you have agreed to be made tonight for refugees.
Lord Mayor - 457 British soldiers died in Afghanistan.
Our soldiers went to do the bidding of our Government, and did their job with courage.
Thousands came back with life changing physical or mental injuries. We thank them for their service and sacrifice. But we owe them a debt which goes beyond a thank you and a disability pension
Rereading the obituaries is heart rending.
Newcastle born Sapper Adam Moralee of the Royal Engineers - Mozza or Massive to his mates - died on 5th March 2014 in Helmand. At the time they said that his love for Newcastle United was only rivalled by his love for his fiancée Emma and parents Lynn and David.
Lisa McKinlay said of her husband JJ of The Rifles : He was a true friend to others and a loving husband - a real joker - and my one in a million.
The commanding officer of Lance Corporal Kyle Marshall, of 2 Para, who attended Churchill Community College said "He was a charismatic, upbeat Geordie, ice cool under fire and a natural leader always. He was ever optimistic, even in the bleakest of circumstances. He is irreplaceable."
Corporal Steve Dunn, who attended St Joseph's School Hebburn, was a loving husband to Cheryl, son to Vicky and doting dad to Emily. His commanders and comrades said : "Cpl Dunn epitomised all that is best in our soldiers and all that is best about Newcastle and the North East. At every turn he strove to improve the lot of his men. He tackled his work with a sense of purpose and in pursuit of making a difference."
It was his third tour of Afghanistan.
Did all this loss and the tears make a difference?
With half the population of Afghanistan under the age of 18, who have only known the freedoms and opportunities our presence brought, we must hope against hope that it did.
Religion enforced with the swish of a cane or the threat of a gun, rather than freedom of conscience, is disguised tyranny. Half the population of the country have been banished from the streets and consigned to the role of baby factory. A female reporter, now in hiding, said "There is no space left at all for working women in Afghanistan."
The music is dying. Singer Fawad Andarabi has been dragged from his home in Kandahar and shot in the head.
The motion states that need not numbers should govern our Government's policies. It a matter of some small satisfaction that over 15,000 civilians have been flown out of Kabul by the RAF. 2200 of them are children, including one who was only one day old.
Many of them are from the group to whom we owe the biggest debt of honour - interpreters who were side by side with our troops as they sought to make a difference by engaging with ordinary Afghanis.
From reports, they have been cast adrift. This is dishonourable conduct by Her Majesty's Government.
And a very large number of others have been left behind too, including British passport holders or their dependants.
British citizens London shopkeeper Musa Popal, his 14 year old grandson and Farnborough taxi driver Mohammed Niazi, were killed by the Daesh suicide murderers at Kabul airport. Despite the good job done by our forces, amongst the questions the Foreign Secretary must answer is "Why were these British passport holders not given priority safe passage onto the airport, and what is the Government going to do to help their dependants still in Afghanistan to safety?"
There are already Afghanis in camps in countries surrounding Afghanistan. There will be more. We must help them.
There is a precedent. Not every Afghani will want to leave their part of the world, just as Syrians fleeing Assads's regime don't want to. The UK has spent £3.6 billion in the Middle East over the last 10 years, including £820 million in Lebanon, where around a quarter of the population are refugees. We've spent over ¾ of a billion in Jordan on humanitarian aid, supporting job creation and helping the country build longer term stability. Refugees making a new life in the region are less likely to try coming across the Channel in a rubber boat in despair.
The Government must promptly reverse the cuts in foreign aid, and in particular help Pakistan, to where well over a million people in this country trace their roots.
Difficult though it may be, we must also help the large number of Farsi-speaking Afghans who have or will flee into Iran, and those who go north.
At 31st March this year over 3000 Afghans whose land of origin has lurched back two decades in a few days were waiting for a decision on their applications for settlement here in the UK . That bureaucracy must be expedited too.
Lord Mayor, I move the motion and look forward to listening to contributions which will cover matters which I don't have time to mention.
The motion reads :
Failing the Afghan people
Councillor Ashby to move :
"Council notes that:
1. As a City of Sanctuary, Newcastle is proud to have been able to receive some of the interpreters who served with the U K Armed Forces in Afghanistan, and their families.
2. Local families are still grieving the loss of relatives who gave their lives in the service of their country in the attempt to free ordinary Afghans from oppression.
3. As the Taliban have taken most of the country in breach of their agreement with the US and Afghan Governments, which enabled UK training forces to be withdrawn, millions of women and girls are facing the prospect of a new era of injustice, inequality, brutality, forced marriages, loss of freedoms and oppression.
4. The UK has failed to meet its moral obligation to all of those interpreters and others who risked their lives supporting our troops, while the Conservative Government's international development spending in Afghanistan has been slashed.
5. Taliban domination of Afghanistan must inevitably have an adverse effect on Pakistan, which may become a first destination to those fleeing, and those people of Pakistan origin who have made Newcastle their home.
6. Local authorities will have to carry the heaviest responsibility in relocating and housing Afghan refugees. Therefore, although this is done willingly, it is vital that the Government provides emergency funds now to ensure this can happen successfully and that these funds are not taken from the international aid budget or related humanitarian funding streams.
The UK government must work urgently with our international partners because right now we are failing to meet our responsibilities to the Afghan people. In particular, offering sanctuary in the UK to Afghans must be based on need not numbers or arbitrary timescales.
Council resolves to:
1. Write to HM Government about its concerns of an unfolding humanitarian crisis and abuse of human rights (especially female) stressing the sacrifice of local people and Newcastle's contribution to offering sanctuary to afghans who have supported our national policies.
2. Urge the Government to do everything possible to safeguard those left behind including British citizens and those Afghans whose service to the Government, charities and NGOs puts them at risk, and other people of Afghanistan in jeopardy. This must include the restoration of previous levels of humanitarian aid in-country and for refugee camps in other countries which Afghans manage to reach.
3. Also urge HM Government to:
· Scrap the 'resettlement-only' plans set out in the Nationality and Borders Bill that would criminalise and/or deny full refugee status to those who make their own journeys to seek asylum in the UK, including those originating from Afghanistan.
· Grant immediate status to Afghan's asylum-seekers already in the UK
· Release all Afghan nationals from detention.
· Expand the family reunion route so that Afghans can be joined by other members of their family, such as parents and siblings."