Britain must give Afghan refugees the chance to thrive

An imaginative programme of integration is needed, involving above all lessons in English and job opportunities

Nato’s 20-year involvement in Afghanistan has come to an ignominious end with thousands of people who worked with Western forces and other organisations still trapped in the country. Questions will be asked for some time as to why preparations for their evacuation were not better able to withstand the sudden takeover by the Taliban given that the US departure date had been known for months.

Nonetheless, a large number – some 15,000 – were able to get out in the final few days thanks to the efforts of the Armed Forces working under the banner of Operation Pitting.

The challenge now is how to help these people adapt to life in the UK and not leave them languishing in substandard accommodation or living on welfare benefits as has happened with many refugees in the past.

An imaginative programme of integration is needed, involving above all lessons in English and job opportunities. Other countries run so-called “welcoming packages” for newcomers which the Government would be wise to consider here.

They include free language tuition and classes in civic engagement. We have spent years in this country fretting about the assimilation of immigrants without doing a great deal to bring it about. The Afghans need to be enabled to make a contribution to UK society.

One idea that we reported yesterday is to raise a regiment of the British Army from the hundreds of Afghan special forces commandos who were evacuated.

They were trained by the British and served alongside our troops in Afghanistan, acquitting themselves bravely and well by all accounts.

Some Conservative MPs and former Army officers have suggested they could be a stand-alone non-British unit like the Gurkhas. The French have the Foreign Legion as an elite battalion often deployed to the most turbulent places.

Unlike the Afghan forces, they have a long history serving the UK and French states but there is the germ of a good idea here that is worth taking further. Some Afghan soldiers might prefer to be recruited directly into the Army but with manpower cuts under way that is not straightforward.

Meanwhile, for the thousands left behind, the Taliban says it will not stand in the way of those who still want to leave and will facilitate their departure through intermediaries like Pakistan. The new government in Kabul is seeking to make many of the promises that the West wants to hear about open borders and human rights. They need to be held to their pledges as an absolute condition for any international recognition.

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