Britain and France are to put forward an emergency UN resolution calling for a safe zone at Kabul airport so people can continue to fly out of Afghanistan, Emmanuel Macron has said.
The comments by the French president come after the UK airlift evacuation operation ended at the weekend, leaving at least 1,000 Afghans eligible to come to Britain stuck in Kabul and the surrounding country.
Plans to have the would-be evacuees travel overland to neighbouring countries for processing were today branded "half-baked" by former child refugee Lord Dubs, while ex-head of the army General Lord Dannatt has accused ministers of being “asleep on their watch”.
But under the new plan to be put forward at the UN Security Council in concert with France, the evacuees would still be able to leave by air – as long as the Taliban cooperates.
It comes as the Foreign Office released a joint statement alongside dozens of other countries’ foreign ministries, saying they had “received assurances from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorisation from our countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country”.
The countries, which include the US, Britain, and most European states, say they are “committed to ensuring that our citizens, nationals and residents, employees, Afghans who have worked with us and those who are at risk can continue to travel freely to destinations outside Afghanistan”.
They add: “We will continue issuing travel documentation to designated Afghans, and we have the clear expectation of and commitment from the Taliban that they can travel to our respective countries. We note the public statements of the Taliban confirming this understanding.”
Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, who was widely criticised for being on holiday during the early part of the crisis, is meanwhile set to hold diplomatic meetings over the coming days on how to deal with the Taliban.
He is expected to echo the prime minister’s call over the weekend that the international response will be based on the de facto Afghan government’s actions rather than words – with assurances sought on education for women and girls, safe passage for refugees, and a rejection of international terror groups.
But it is the issue of how to help those who missed the last RAF flight out that is likely to be the most urgent priority. On Sunday the Foreign Office confirmed that the UN proposal outlined by Mr Macron was being pursued.
The UK’s UN ambassador is expected to raise the safe zone proposal with her counterparts from the four other permanent member countries of the UN Security Council, China, France, Russia, and the United States. Diplomatic sources say that meeting is expected to take place late on Monday evening in New York.
Back in Westminster, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy has written to foreign secretary Mr Raab, asking him to explain how Labour MPs alone had 5,000 cases of Afghans potentially elegible to come to Britain in their inboxes – amid reports that the FCO had been ignoring emails from those trying to get out.
She warned that the government was working with a “serious underestimate” when it suggested that just 1,000 more people were eligible to come.
She said: “My office is currently tracking cases related to 5,000 people from Labour MPs alone, including British nationals, high-profile public figures, people with serious disabilities and children separated from their families, which may give a sense of the complexity of evacuation.”
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly on Monday morning acknowledged for the first time that emails from Afghans desperate to leave the country may not have been read by officials.
Asked if he had unread emails in his own inbox, Mr Clevely told the BBC on Monday: “I suspect everybody has.”
He said the government had received a “huge number of emails directly from Afghanistan and from third parties” after announcing it would help people at risk of reprisals from the Taliban.
“Obviously we had a limited time window and limited flight availability in Kabul airport. We of course were prioritising getting people who had been processed, who were at the airport, on to planes and out of the country,” he said.
“We will continue to work with those Afghans in other parts of Afghanistan who had not been processed when the airport closed and we will continue working to get them out of the country.
“We have been and will continue to work through the significant number of emails that we have received to try to get as many other people out of Afghanistan as possible.”
Speaking to French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, Mr Macron said: “Our resolution proposal aims to define a safe zone in Kabul, under UN control, which would allow humanitarian operations to continue.”
Mr Macron added that the plan was “about protecting these threatened Afghans and getting them out of the country in the coming days or weeks. We will see if this can be done through the capital’s civilian airport or through neighbouring countries.”
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