U.K. Officials Overwhelmed by Demands for Help From Afghanistan
The U.K. Foreign Office has received over 200,000 emails relating to its Afghanistan response and is struggling to cope, given the unprecedented number and complexity of the cases, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The messages include about 30,000 pieces of correspondence from members of parliament. The U.K.’s minister for the Middle East and North Africa, James Cleverly, confirmed the figures to MPs this week, saying that “working through that volume of emails has been a Herculean task.”
The U.K. has airlifted around 15,000 people from Kabul and former Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the Parliament’s foreign affairs committee this month that he doesn’t know how many people who worked to support British forces have been left behind. Amnesty International has documented cases of the Taliban torturing and executing people it accused of working for the previous, Western-backed government.
The Foreign Office has never received such a volume of requests over such a short period of time and has been looking for 270 extra people to help go through the correspondence, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive matters.
Cleverly told members of parliament on Wednesday that foreign office officials had been aiming to reply to MPs this week but it had been become clear that the work will take longer than originally hoped.
The total volume of correspondence includes multiple messages from the same sender as well as extremely complex cases, which require the involvement of other government departments, including the Home Office.
The Foreign Office has also told staff that some of the messages were sent by British nationals and Afghans eligible to come to the U.K., said the person. The recruits are tasked with reading and analysing the messages, and in some cases judging whether someone still in Afghanistan can be helped, the person added.
In a sign of just how overworked the department has become, the person noted that as of Friday morning officials still hadn’t sent the customary communication to staff welcoming the new foreign secretary, Liz Truss. She was appointed two days ago.
The Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan last month as western governments halted evacuations and left the country following the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Bloomberg has previously reported that the U.K. has been talking to Qatar about the Gulf country helping with evacuations from Kabul.
The Foreign Office was approached for comment.
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