The heartbreaking video of Afghan citizens clinging to the side of a US military plane as it was leaving Kabul brutally captured the controversial circumstances of the West’s departure from Afghanistan — and of the desperation it was leaving behind.

As thousands attempt to flee the returning Taliban rule, questions are being asked of the countries responsible for the current chaos.

Take the UK is just one of the countries who withdrew alongside the US. An integral part of the NATO forces occupying Afghanistan for 20 years, the country decided to withdraw at the same time as it cut humanitarian aid to the country by an astonishing 78%, and left a vaccuum for The Taliban to rapidly fill. 

Although British troops left Afghanistan in droves after the death of Osama bin Laden in 2014, it was only in July 2021 when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the remaining military personnel would come home too.

And at almost exactly the same time this year, it was first revealed that the UK could be slashing the vast majority of its aid to Afghanistan as part of billions in devastating cuts to its aid budget, the only government funding reserved to tackle the root causes of extreme poverty around the world.

It was reported at the time that aid would decrease from £167.5 million in 2020/21 to just £37.5 million for 2021/22. Other countries that saw their aid contributions almost entirely torn up by the cuts included Palestine, Ethiopia, and Yemen.

The UK’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab — who was criticised for going on holiday as the Afghan government was falling to the Taliban takeover — has suggested that aid could rise to Afghanistan by 10% in the wake of the crisis. However, this would still be tens of millions of pounds short of the humanitarian assistance offered prior to the UK aid cuts.

Raab also implied that aid could actually be withheld instead, in order to hold the Taliban to account, in an interview with the BBC.

“I expect that we will increase our aid budget for development and humanitarian purposes, probably by 10% is what I have in mind on last year,” Raab told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme. “We want to try and make sure it won’t go through the Taliban, but make sure that we can alleviate the humanitarian suffering.”

There are currently still a number of international aid organisations still operating in Afghanistan, including UNHCR, the refugee agency of the United Nations, Doctors Without Borders, and Women for Afghan Women.

Women and girls are especially vulnerable to the new regime. Although the Taliban have issued statements saying women would be respected "within the framework of Islamic law", this was far from the case the last time they controlled regions of the country.

Reports have already emerged of Taliban forces capturing new territory and forcing women to marry soldiers, drop out of school, or being publicly flogged for breaking rules.

The UK announced on Tuesday that it would set up a resettlement programme to offer sanctuary in Britain to 20,000 Afghan asylum seekers over the next five years. It’s based on a similar policy put forward by former Prime Minister David Cameron to house Syrian refugees fleeing civil war in 2014.

However Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, chair of the select committee for defence, told the Daily Mirror it was a "woefully inadequate response,” especially given that the current proposal for the scheme would not allow more than 5,000 people to be accepted in the UK in its first year — the time when the people threatened by the Taliban might need help the most.

Britain hardly has a good record at delivering programmes like these with the necessary urgency required either. The Syrian refugee scheme was especially sluggish, consistently failing to meet its resettlement targets

As the Guardian raised in its coverage of the programme, why are we not doing more in this instance, considering the UK was so involved in the conflict — and is seen as partly responsible for the subsequent chaos?

It also comes at a time that the UK has been putting forward a number of anti-refugee policies. There have been plans, for example, to set up a processing plant in Rwanda for asylum seekers arriving in the UK. Other ideas put forward at the UK's Home Office include erecting a floating wall in the English Channel, or installing water cannons to repel migrant dinghies.

“If the Canadians can take 20,000, why are we only taking 20,000 over five years?” said Lord Alf Dubs, a Labour peer and former child refugee. “I think the criteria for prioritising women and children and vulnerable people is right, but these people are in danger now and are in desperate need for safety.”

If you want to take action to support the people of Afghanistan, you can email your MP here to urge the UK government to do more to create a safe route for fleeing citizens. In addition, you can donate to local organisations, support women’s media, sign petitions, and more — some helpful information on which can be found here.


Demand Equity

Remember When the UK Cut Aid to Afghanistan By 78%? That Was Just a Month Ago.

By James Hitchings-Hales