Northern Ireland will ‘offer what sanctuary we can’ to refugees fleeing Afghanistan

Names of 9 soldiers from North killed during British army’s deployment named in House of Commons

Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill outside Parliament Buildings, Belfast, on Thursday. File photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill outside Parliament Buildings, Belfast, on Thursday. File photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

 

Northern Ireland will “offer what sanctuary we can” to refugees fleeing Afghanistan, the North’s First Minister has said.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, Paul Givan of the DUP and the Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin, expressed their concern for the people of Afghanistan and said the Executive was ready to do what it could to help.

Ms O’Neill said work had been “ongoing to scope out what is required and see what assistance we as an Executive can offer.

“We are offering to help however we can, and we will explore every avenue, to play our part in helping those fleeing Afghanistan,” she said.

Meanwhile, efforts are also underway to assist a number of aid workers from Northern Ireland who are in Afghanistan to leave the country.

The DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson told the BBC on Wednesday that there were “British aid workers in Afghanistan, some of them from Northern Ireland, that we are trying to get out of the country as quickly as possible”.

On Wednesday, the British government outlined a new resettlement plan which will allow up to 20,000 Afghan refugees - including 5,000 this year - who are fleeing the Taliban takeover of their country to come to the UK.

The plans have been criticised by the Alliance MP, Stephen Farry, who described them as “woefully inadequate.”

Northern Ireland previously offered shelter to more than 1,800 refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria, and it is expected that the scheme to bring Afghan refugees to the North will be modelled along similar lines.

A spokesperson for the Minister for Communities, Deirdre Hargey, said the department was working with the Executive Office to ensure a “co-ordinated, cross-departmental response” to meet the needs of those who may arrive.

“The Department for Communities will assist in the resettlement of Afghan refugees with the focused and immediate response this grave situation requires as has been done with Syrian and other refugees escaping from conflict and oppression in the past,” the spokesperson said.

MPs returned from summer recess to the House of Commons on Wednesday for an emergency debate on the crisis in Afghanistan.

Mr Donaldson said humanitarian assistance was now “urgently required” - especially for Afghans who had supported the British armed forces - and he had been personally contacted by veterans who know interpreters and civilian staff who worked in military bases in Afghanistan.

“They are desperate to know what we are going to do to help,” he said. “We need to step up now. As they stepped up for us during the war in Afghanistan, we now must step up for them and offer sanctuary to these courageous people and their families.”

He listed the names of the nine soldiers from Northern Ireland who had been killed during the British army’s deployment in Afghanistan and said he did not believe their sacrifice had been in vain.

On overseas aid, Mr Donaldson warned that the UK “cannot seriously at this time contemplate cutting our international aid budget when people are in absolute desperation.”