NUJ statement on the Foreign Office’s handling of the evacuation of Kabul as the Taliban took control

  • 07 Dec 2021

A whistleblower described the chaos and inaction at the heart of government, saying fewer than 5 per cent received help.

The publication today of devastating testimony from Raphael Marshall lays bare the chaotic and dysfunctional handling of the crisis following the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, which left thousands of high risk Afghans, including hundreds of journalists, high and dry.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, described the testimony as “shocking but utterly compelling”. She said:

“I pay tribute to Raphael Marshall’s decision to blow the whistle on the shambolic and shameful mishandling of the Afghan crisis by this government, which has directly put the lives of thousands of Afghans with clear links to the UK in grave peril, including many hundreds of journalists.

“When the NUJ, alongside many NGOs, was finally granted a meeting with Foreign office officials and given access to the so-called Afghan Special Cases Unit, we were assured that the cases we entrusted would be dealt with at the highest level with due urgency. In those days at the end of August, I shared hundreds of cases and personal documentation and information via that route, pressing for urgent action and offering any further assistance that would be useful, in order to ensure that journalists in danger, and their dependents, gained safe passage out of Afghanistan. 

“It’s hard to feel reassured when you only receive an automatic response, assuring the sender that their email has been received and will be actioned, and when the same individuals at risk continue to send harrowing emails in the days and weeks to follow, detailing their fears as they move from house to house, in hiding, and reports of Taliban fighters going door to door seeking out reporters. But you trust in the system, in the absence of any alternative.

“Since August, the NUJ and International Federation of Journalists have pressed the government for clarity, for action, for help – including for journalists who worked in the past for the BBC and are clearly at risk because of their association with our public service broadcaster. We’ve received meaningless and frustrating responses that fail to address our queries. Questions in parliament have been batted away with platitudes. MPs raising individual cases have been treated with commensurate disdain.

“Now we learn that what felt like a shitshow to those experiencing it in August and since, was indeed nothing more than a shitshow. Emails went unread or were merely clicked open, so that ministers could claim they were being actioned. This was an operation of chaos, bungling and dysfunction led by a Secretary of State who chose to go paddle-boarding when he should have been planning this evacuation, who prioritised database formatting delays over evacuations, within a government that diverted resources on dogs instead of saving lives. That they continue to mask their incompetence and failures to this day is truly shocking.”

Anthony Bellanger, IFJ general secretary, said:

"Journalists in Afghanistan placed such faith in the UK government to help them escape as they hid from Taliban fighters going door to door searching for them. Their faith was horribly misplaced. Instead, their harrowing tales were not even deemed worthy of reading and responding to. The government has failed Afghan journalists and media and lives have been put at risk as a result of this callous incompetence". 

Marshall’s evidence is contained within testimony to the foreign affairs select committee published today. An Oxford graduate with three years in the diplomatic service, Raphael Marshall had volunteered to work on the FCDO’s special cases team at the height of the crisis in August and has since quit the department. His evidence details his experience of manning three evacuation desk, having to make life and death decisions guided by haphazard criteria. 

The team was responsible for helping people whose lives were at risk due to their connection with the UK – including journalists, alongside politicians, soldiers, civil servants, judges, women activists and aid workers. In his testimony, Marshall estimates between 75,000 and 150,000 people applied for evacuation under the scheme, but that fewer than 5 per cent received help.

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