Thousands of emails sent to the Foreign Ministry by MPs and charities detailing urgent cases of Afghans trying to escape Kabul have gone unread, including cases reported by ministers of the government. government, the Observer has been said.
The UK’s evacuation in Afghanistan ended on Saturday evening with the departure of the last British military and diplomatic personnel, bringing a sudden end to 20 years of deployment. More than 15,000 people have been expelled from the country in the past fortnight, in what ministers described as the largest British military evacuation since World War II.
However, amid accusations of government incompetence over elements of the evacuation effort, the Observer saw evidence that an official email address used to compile potential Afghan cases from MPs and others regularly contained 5,000 unread emails throughout the week.
In many cases, emails detailing cases of Afghans fearful for the lives of their families appear to have gone unopened for days. An email from Labor leader Keir Starmer sent on Monday was still unread on Thursday. There also appear to be unread messages from the offices of Victoria Atkins, the new Afghan resettlement minister, Home Secretary Priti Patel, and the Conservative Chairman of the Defense Select Committee, Tobias Ellwood.
The revelation challenges ministers’ suggestion that the total number of Afghans left behind is 1,100.
A whistleblower with access to the Foreign Ministry’s email accounts in question said most cases covered more than one person, meaning ministers couldn’t get a clear idea of the actual number left behind. “It’s not just that MPs weren’t getting responses – their emails weren’t being read,” the source said. “The inbox currently has a backlog of 5,000 emails. It’s not that it’s the emails that haven’t been processed. It’s not even that these are emails that haven’t been processed and put into a spreadsheet. It’s because no one actually opened the email.
“They can’t know [how many people have been left behind] because they haven’t even read the emails. Even among those who have been registered, many have been left behind. But there’s also a much, much larger group of people who just haven’t been treated at all. “
The claims will increase pressure on the Foreign Ministry’s handling of the evacuation process and on Foreign Minister Dominic Raab, who was criticized for initially staying on vacation when the Afghan crisis began.
Starmer said that “the complacency and incompetence of this government has been exposed once again and with tragic consequences.” He added: “The fact that so many emails are just not being opened is not the fault of officials but of government ministers who have been missing during this entire crisis. “
Kabul was a city of fear last night as the last British flight carrying evacuated civilians made its way to safety, leaving hundreds of Afghans who worked for Britain at the mercy of the Taliban.
As British and American forces rushed to complete a separate airlift of Afghan soldiers, diplomats and personnel, the victorious Taliban fighters delivered a ruthless coup de grace, claiming control of parts of the airport, the latest fragment of territory still in the hands of the West.
Shocked by the suicide bombing of the airport on Friday by the Islamic State which left more than 100 dead, mostly civilians, the Afghan capital was plagued by fears of possible Taliban revenge killings against Western “collaborators” and the prospect of further terrorist attacks.
A disturbing sign of the turmoil in the ungoverned country, Kabulis has gathered in the streets to demand money from closed banks. Meanwhile, thousands of frightened people fled the capital by vehicle or on foot, heading for the Pakistani border as the era of US control drew to a close.
As the latest evacuations took place on Saturday, Kabul’s Hamid Karzai Airport remained under high security alert as the United States asked all citizens still queuing at the gates to leave immediately. The Taliban have also started working to cordon off the entire area around the airport. Additional Taliban forces, many armed with US military equipment, have been deployed to set up new checkpoints and have blocked all roads leading to the airport gates, bringing order to an area. of chaos.
While other Western countries also halted evacuations on Saturday and only three more days until August 31, the deadline for the full US withdrawal, the desperation of many stranded in Kabul was palpable. Among those who fear they will be left behind after all evacuation efforts are completed on Tuesday are dozens of local Afghan agents working for the UN. They accused its agencies of immediately evacuating international staff, but abandoning local staff until it is “too late”. An Afghan woman who worked for a UN agency in Kabul for several years, and had previously worked for EU humanitarian agencies, said: But they literally did nothing for local staff.
“Some local staff cried during meetings, saying they didn’t feel safe in their homes. And all they [the UN] said “sorry we will try to do our best.” But they didn’t do anything and now we’re trapped.
Mohammad Naciri, regional director of UN Women Asia, said efforts to evacuate their teams and Afghan women human rights defenders were continuing, despite many challenges, and that they were in talks with member states to help “facilitate those who think they would be safer outside Kabul”.
In the city center, chaos erupted on Saturday as hundreds took to the streets outside New Kabul Bank to protest months of unpaid wages and failure to withdraw money . Over the past few days, long lines have formed at ATMs in the capital, where cash withdrawals have been limited to $ 200 every 24 hours.
On Saturday Boris Johnson said leaving was “a time to reflect on how much we have sacrificed and how much we have achieved over the past two decades.”
“Twenty years ago, following the attacks of September 11, the first British soldier set foot on Afghan soil with the aim of creating a better future for the country and all its people,” he said. declared. “The nature of our engagement in Afghanistan may have changed, but not our goals for the country.
“We will now use all the diplomatic and humanitarian tools at our disposal to preserve the gains of the past 20 years and give the Afghan people the future they deserve.”