Foreign AffairsSpeeches

Fabian Hamilton – 2022 Speech on British Council Contractors in Afghanistan

The speech made by Fabian Hamilton, the Labour MP for Leeds North East, in the House of Commons on 23 June 2022.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) for securing this important urgent question.

On behalf of the Labour Opposition, I extend my thoughts to all those currently suffering in Afghanistan following the dreadful earthquake earlier this week.

In February it was revealed that hundreds of British Council staff were left stranded in Afghanistan following this Government’s botched evacuation from Kabul. The Minister told the House at the time that the Government were supporting those in need and that 50 British Council contractors had been evacuated. Four months on, we are faced with the same problem: hundreds of former British Council contractors are stranded, with reports that they are being attacked and beaten by the Taliban due to their previous work on behalf of the United Kingdom.

Many of those still in Afghanistan are security guards who protected British staff at the embassy as they undertook an extremely difficult task during the evacuation last August. We owe so much to these courageous British Council contractors, and the fact that they are still in Afghanistan and facing daily violence due to their co-operation with the UK is, frankly, nothing short of a disgrace.

I would therefore be grateful if the Minister could tell us how many British Council staff are still stuck in Afghanistan today. What urgent measures are being put in place to evacuate the rest of the staff who are still stranded in Afghanistan? What engagement has she had with regional partners to facilitate safe passage for the former staff who attempt to leave? Once again, what message does it send to other British Council contractors who work in challenging environments around the world if the UK leaves Afghan contractors stranded in this way?

It is high time the Government got their act together and stood up for those who worked with the United Kingdom to promote security, tolerance and democracy in Afghanistan.