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Operation Warm Welcome

Volume 701: debated on Monday 20 September 2021

The whole Government are committed to ensuring that those Afghan nationals evacuated under Op Pitting are properly supported in the UK. Defence is supporting the cross-Government effort, Op Warm Welcome, and we are extending a hand of friendship in the spirit of compassion, comradeship and community.

I welcome the incredible efforts of our troops undertaking one of the largest evacuations in modern history and now working to extend that hand of friendship to those brought back. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking them all for responding with such professionalism to the challenges faced?

Absolutely; I am delighted to put on the record our thanks. Amid the tragic scenes in Kabul, the bravery, professionalism and compassion of 16 Air Assault Brigade, the Royal Air Force and others was a light amid the darkness.

For those eligible for the Afghan relocations and assistance policy scheme, arriving in the UK under Operation Warm Welcome has left friends and colleagues of our armed forces stranded in hotels without contact, support and help at the very time they need it. In the light of the outstanding skills of our armed forces, will the Minister talk to the Home Secretary about how his Department can lead on Operation Warm Welcome for those arriving under the ARAP scheme, so the right connections are made with those who served alongside these brave men and women to build vital bridges at each stage of the resettlement journey?

We are extending that warm hand of welcome. Of course, there is the requirement for some people to be in quarantine, but I can assure the hon. Member that a very thorough effort is being put in place to ensure that that hand of friendship is extended to all who have arrived.

Mr Speaker, thanks to your very kind invitation, 120 members of the armed forces who served will be welcomed to Parliament on 20 October, immediately after Prime Minister’s Question Time. I hope all Members of the House will be there to give them a very warm welcome. I very much hope we are giving just as warm a welcome to all the refugees coming back from Afghanistan. There are 100 in my constituency. How can we find a way to give them a warmer welcome? Could local communities, for example, find ways of welcoming them to barbeques or other ways to make them feel at home?

I am grateful for that question. I would like to put on record my thanks to my hon. Friend’s good offices for making that happen. Of course, there will be a very significant role for the wider community and the third sector to play in welcoming our Afghan friends. I recently visited an Afghan cricket team that had been put together by a local pastor. The whole community is quite demonstrably coming together.

The Scottish Refugee Council recently called for the UK Government to extend Operation Warm Welcome to Afghans who are still stuck in the asylum process waiting on decisions or who have previously been declined protection. Can the Minister confirm what discussions he has had with colleagues across Government on extending the programme in such a way?

I will, of course, pass that question on to the Home Office, but my expectation is that Operation Warm Welcome will run for as long as is necessary.