Baroness tells of ‘terrible texts’ from trapped Afghan women pleading for help

Helena Kennedy evacuated more than 500 people from Afghanistan in 2021, but is still in contact with some of those she had to leave behind.

Katrine Bussey
Sunday 25 June 2023 00:01 BST
Baroness Kennedy KC said she still receives messages from women in Afghanistan urging her to help them flee the country (Robert Perry/PA)
Baroness Kennedy KC said she still receives messages from women in Afghanistan urging her to help them flee the country (Robert Perry/PA)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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A leading human rights lawyer has told how she still receives “tragic, terrible text messages” from women hiding from the Taliban in Afghanistan, nearly two years after she managed to evacuate more than 500 people from the conflict-torn country.

Baroness Helena Kennedy KC organised the evacuation of 103 women who were on Taliban “kill lists” in September and October 2021, flying them and their families to safety.

A total of 508 people escaped on three flights the Scottish-born Labour peer arranged – but she told how she still gets pleas for help from some women who were unable to flee at that time.

Hitting out at the UK Government, she said the Tories’ “dog whistle politics” on immigration mean she can no longer bring people to safety in Britain.

Speaking to the PA news agency, she said: “It was possible then, then of course it wasn’t possible any more.

“I have still got women sending me the most tragic, terrible text messages and phoning me at all hours, saying ‘please help me, I am hiding in my basement, I didn’t get on your planes in 2021 because my mother was dying, I couldn’t leave at the time, but now they are after me’.

“But all I can say is ‘I’m sorry, they don’t provide visas to Britain from Afghanistan, you have to go to another country, Pakistan is the nearest, you have to get your kids across that border’.”

Baroness Kennedy described the evacuation she organised in 2021 as “one of the crazier things I have done in my life”, but also “one of the things I feel was absolutely the right thing to do”.

You have to have sensible policies around immigration and what we need in terms of immigration

Baroness Helena Kennedy KC

Condemning the shortage of legal routes for those fleeing persecution to come to the UK, she said that is why “quite a number” of those who attempt to arrive on small boats across the Channel are originally from Afghanistan.

“Sometimes they are Afghanis who have worked for us,” she said.

“Sometimes they are Afghanis of a particular minority called the Hazara, who get slaughtered as soon as the Taliban look at them.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made a commitment to “stop the boats” as one of his key pledges to voters, with the UK Government currently pursuing a crackdown on refugees entering the country illegally in the Illegal Migration Bill.

Baroness Kennedy claimed that legislation constitutes a “full frontal dismissal of the rule of law”.

She said: “I’m a lawyer, and I believe in the rule of law. And I think rather like Boris (Johnson) being dismissive or applying the rules to himself, I am afraid that has spilled into the behaviour of other ministers.

“I am afraid that the Home Office in this is prepared to break international law on the refugee convention, the convention on the rights of the child, the convention on the elimination of discrimination against women, because they are prepared to deport pregnant women.

“One of the fundamentals in Scots law and English law is the right to due process, that before you lose any of your rights that you should have the opportunity of putting your case.

“These people are not being allowed to put their own case as to why they might be entitled to asylum or refugee status here.”

She described the proposals as “pretty disgusting”, and added: “It is being done because this is a Government running out of policy and running out of road.

“You do have to have sensible policies around immigration and what we need in terms of immigration.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “The UK has a proud history of providing safe and legal routes for those who need it, and the UK’s current offer is the most generous in recent history.

“Between 2015 and March 2023, we have offered a place to over half a million men, women and children seeking safety.

“Supporting the resettlement of eligible Afghans remains a top priority. We have so far welcomed over 9,113 arrivals under Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), and we continue to work with the UNHCR, likeminded partners and countries neighbouring Afghanistan to identify at-risk people for resettlement in the UK.

“No one however should be risking their lives by crossing the Channel or taking dangerous and illegal routes to reach the UK. People should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach – that is the fastest route to safety.”

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