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Dominic Raab denies animals were prioritised over humans during Afghanistan evacuation

·6 min read
Dominic Raab denies animals were prioritised over humans during Afghanistan evacuation

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab has denied reports that the lives of animals were prioritised over humans during the evacuation from Afghanistan in August.

During the fall of Kabul, the Foreign Office came under intense criticism for evacuating around 150 dogs from an animal shelter as British interpreters struggled to flee the country.

Mr Raab has now denied claims that Boris Johnson asked for “considerable capacity” to help evacuate dogs.

“That’s just not accurate, of course we did not put the welfare of animals above individuals,” Mr Raab, who was foreign minister at the time, told Sky News on Tuesday.

It comes as a whistleblower described the government’s handling of the evacuation - which took place after the Taliban seized Kabul - as “dysfunctional” and “chaotic”.

Raphael Marshall claimed that just five per cent of Afghan nationals who applied for help to flee the country under a UK scheme received assistance.

In evidence published by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday, Marshall – who worked for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)– told how at one point he was the only person monitoring an inbox where pleas for help were directed.

Mr Marshall’s written evidence is due to be published by the committee on Tuesday.

Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, who is chairman of the committee, said the “failures betrayed our friends and allies and squandered decades of British and Nato effort”.

And he said it painted the evacuation as “one of lack of interest, and bureaucracy over humanity”.

Mr Marshall worked in the Afghan Special Cases team, which handled the cases of Afghans who were at risk because of their links with the UK. However, he did not work directly for the UK Government.

He estimated that “between 75,000 and 150,000 people (including dependants) applied for evacuation” to the team under the leave outside the rules (LOTR) category.

He claimed that “fewer than 5 per cent of these people have received any assistance”, adding “it is clear that some of those left behind have since been murdered by the Taliban”.

He said that no member of the team working on these cases had “studied Afghanistan, worked on Afghanistan previously, or had a detailed knowledge of Afghanistan”.

 (PA Media)
(PA Media)

He added that junior officials were “scared by being asked to make hundreds of life and death decisions about which they knew nothing”.

Dominic Raab, who was foreign secretary at the time, said he did not recognise the figures.

Mr Raab told Sky News it was "right" the UK had a process in place to check for those at "genuine risk of persecution" and protect the country from potential threats.

Asked if he recognised the whistleblower’s figures, he said: "I don’t. But what is certainly true is that we had a lot of people rushing to get out of Afghanistan for all sorts of reasons.

"And I think it’s right that we had a process in place to check two things: One, that we were helping those at genuine risk of persecution, or British nationals or people who had worked for the British Government.

"And secondly, making sure that we didn’t allow anyone to come into the UK who might present a threat to the UK.

"And it was important to have a process to make those decisions swiftly but also accurately."

Speaking to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, he called it “inaccurate” to suggest that “junior desk officers were making decisions”.

He added: “"There’s a difference between processing and deciding, so I’m afraid I don’t accept that characterisation.

"On the charge it took several hours to make decisions, we’re not talking about days, it’s not been suggested weeks, but several hours to make sure we had the facts, and that, as between myself, the Home Secretary and the Defence Secretary, decisions were made and actually I would suggest that’s a reasonably swift turnaround.

"...Some of the criticism seems rather dislocated from the facts on the ground, the operational pressures that with the takeover of the Taliban, unexpected around the world... I do think that not enough recognition has been given to quite how difficult it was."

It comes as FCDO officials and the ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, are due to give evidence to the committee on Tuesday.

Mr Marshall alleged that then Foreign SecretaryDominic Raab “did not fully understand the situation”.

Emails were opened but not actioned, and he felt “the purpose of this system was to allow the Prime Minister and the then Foreign Secretary to inform MPs that there were no unread emails”.

He said: “These emails were desperate and urgent. I was struck by many titles including phrases such as ‘please save my children’.”

He added: “The contrast between Her Majesty’s Government’s statements about a changed Taliban and the large number of highly credible allegations of very grave human rights abuses HMG has received by email is striking.”

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

Mr Tugendhat said: “These allegations are serious and go to the heart of the failures of leadership around the Afghan disaster, which we have seen throughout this inquiry.

“These failures betrayed our friends and allies and squandered decades of British and Nato effort. The evidence we’ve heard alleges dysfunction within the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and substantial failings throughout the Afghanistan evacuation effort.

“The evacuation has been described as a success by some, but these allegations point to a very different story – one of lack of interest, and bureaucracy over humanity. It proved to be a true test of the leadership and effectiveness of the Foreign Office with the lives of many of our friends and allies in the balance.

“This evidence raises serious questions about the leadership of the Foreign Office, and I look forward to putting these to officials, including former Afghanistan Ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow.”

A Government spokesperson said: “UK Government staff worked tirelessly to evacuate more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan within a fortnight.

“This was the biggest mission of its kind in generations and the second-largest evacuation carried out by any country. We are still working to help others leave.

“More than 1,000 FCDO staff worked to help British nationals and eligible Afghans leave during Op Pitting. The scale of the evacuation and the challenging circumstances meant decisions on prioritisation had to be made quickly to ensure we could help as many people as possible.

“Regrettably we were not able to evacuate all those we wanted to, but our commitment to them is enduring, and since the end of the operation we have helped more than 3,000 individuals leave Afghanistan.”

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