A TORY MSP has called on the UK Government to restore its spending on international aid “as soon as practically possible” amid the “depressing and deeply regrettable” situation in Afghanistan.
MSPs debated support offered to Afghans – with SNP External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson announcing £250,000 to “provide critical help to the people of Afghanistan”.
He also announced that about 160 Afghans have been welcomed in Scotland as refugees since late June this year.
SNP and opposition MSPs criticised the UK Government’s plans to offer resettlement to just 20,000 Afghans, but Scottish Conservative external affairs spokesperson, Donald Cameron, called on his Government in Westminster to retore its 0.7% of GDP spending on international aid.
The UK Government faced widespread criticism, including from Conservative MPs, after announcing a 0.7% of GDP commitment spent on international aid has been temporarily cut to 0.5%.
Mr Cameron told MSPs that the UK “has a proud history of welcoming refugees to our shores”.
But he warned that “it is depressing and deeply regrettable that following the exit of American and British military personnel, Afghanistan has spiralled so quickly back to where it was some 20 years ago”.
He added: “The United Kingdom has been for decades at the forefront of helping some of the poorest and most vulnerable people from around the world.
“The Scottish Conservatives have long-supported the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7% of GNI on international aid and while we acknowledge the reasons behind the temporary reduction to 0.5%, we call on the UK Government to reinstate their long-term commitment to 0.7% as soon as practically possible.
“Personally speaking, I hope that moment comes very quickly indeed.”
Scottish Labour external affairs spokesperson, Sarah Boyack, welcomed the intervention by Mr Cameron, calling on his party in Westminster to rethink the aid cut.
She added: “That cut should never have taken place and demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the vital nature of international aid and support, not just in Afghanistan but across the world.”
The SNP’s External Affairs Secretary pointed to a commitment from the UK Government to resettle up to 20,000 Afghan refugees over five years, including only 5,000 in the first year, labelling it “nowhere near enough”, adding that “we must support those who supported us and have been left behind”.
Mr Robertson told MSPs that before June 2021, five Scottish councils had taken in almost 400 people “under the Afghan locally-employed staff scheme since 2014”.
He added: “From that point, arrivals were stepped up (and) from late June 2021 until the end of August, a further 43 families, around 160 individuals arrived in Scotland across eight local authorities.
“A further 20 families, that’s approximately 70 individuals, are expected to arrive in the first weeks of this month. Scottish local authorities have offered a further 40 properties thus far…which are ready to be matched by 40 more families who have recently arrived in the UK.”
He said: “The Scottish Government has made £250,000 available from our humanitarian emergency fund to provide critical help to the people of Afghanistan. This is additional to the financial commitment the Scottish people have already made to the UK’s aid budget through tax contributions.
“We are in close contact with our humanitarian partners to explore ways in which this funding can be delivered safely and effectively to support those on the ground.”
Ms Boyack warned the Scottish Government that “it’s also vital that our councils are properly funded so they can welcome those who choose to settle here”.
She added: “I therefore call on the Scottish Government to provide the targeted support our councils need to ensure that refugees who arrive in Scotland are given the life and the opportunities they deserve – not just rhetoric, however good it is.”
Scottish LibDem leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, called on Westminster politicians to go further in helping to resettle Afghan refugees.
He said: “The UK Government should urgently expand its plans for the resettlement of Afghan refugees.
“This crisis is happening now and given the scale of that crisis, 20,000 people should be the starting point, not the limit of our ambition – it should be the floor not the ceiling.”