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David Miliband has criticised “significant” foreign aid cuts by the UK, warning further withdrawal of support to Afghanistan would “compound the agony” for civilians.
The former foreign secretary, who now leads the International Rescue Committee, said the region was facing a “crisis” following a major Taliban surge in the wake of UK and US military withdrawal earlier this year.
Violence has surged across the country as the Taliban continues to gain territory, with around eight of the country’s 34 provincial capitals being captured by the terrorist group, forcing hundreds of thousands of Aghan families to flee from their homes.
The major advances come in the wake of aid cuts by several major European countries, including the UK, which slashed its foreign aid assistance from 0.7% of national income to 0.5%.
Speaking on Wednesday, Miliband told the BBC’s Today programme he feared further political and diplomatic withdrawal from the country in the wake of the reduction in military support.
“This should definitely be seen as a regional crisis rather than just a national trauma for civilians who are being caught in a terrible crossfire at a time when international aid flows are falling,” he said.
“The British government’s aid contribution is falling from about £80m-a-year to just less than £20m-a-year, so significant cuts.
“The UN appeal is underfunded to the tune of about 50% and that is at a time when 18 million Afghans out of a population of about 40 million are dependent on international humanitarian aid.”
He added: “Our great fear at the moment is that once the military decision has been taken, that is obviously no longer for discussion, that there will be a humanitarian and diplomatic withdrawal as well which will compound the agony for Afghan civilians.”
Miliband also criticised plans by some European nations to press ahead with the deportation of Afghan refugees back to their home country, saying the move would be “completely contrary to international law”.
“I shake my head because we are talking about one of the world’s most significant conflict zones at the moment and returning refugees to a situation in which they have no safety or security is completely contrary to international law,” he said.
“The idea that now is a moment to return Afghans to Kandahar or even to Kabul seems fanciful. This is a time when, certainly those who are in danger because of the work they have done need to be sheltered.”
His comments come after several senior Tory MPs called for further action to tackle the Taliban resurgence, with former defence minister Tobias Ellwood saying the current approach was “the west’s biggest own goal so far this century”.
Fellow Tory MP and former army captain Johnny Mercer has also put pressure on the government to provide further support to Afghan citizens who assisted British troops, saying too many had been “unreasonably” rejected from being allowed to seek refuge in the UK.
Responding to the comments, Miliband said the number who had been refused access to the scheme was “very worrying”.
“The US has expanded its programme for those who worked with the US, the UK needs to do the same,” he said.
“The numbers are very worrying of those who have been turned down under the UK scheme but there also needs to be significant support going into the country because we know untended humanitarian crisis just begets greater political crisis.”
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