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Afghanistan crisis: Councils respond to call for help

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Waiting for safety: Afghans desperately try to flee country

AFTER speaker after speaker denounced his government’s actions,  Boris Johnson’s retreat from the Commons chamber served as a metaphor for his government’s approach to the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

It was a shambolic exit, leaving nothing but bitterness and resentment behind.

PM’s WARM WORDS GET CHILLY RECEPTION

Over the weekend, the Prime Minister said that the consequences of NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan had been known for some time.

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister, a former Foreign Secretary, affected both dismay and surprise at the speed at which the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan.

He really couldn’t have it both ways.

Either the likely (and present) turn of events was foreseen, in which case, people are entitled to wonder why the government’s announcements sounded like they’d been scribbled on the back of a fag packet. Or there had been an epic failure of intelligence operations and political leadership for which the buck stops with ministers.

The PM announced 5,000 Afghani refugees would be accepted this year (by the end of 2021). But he could not explain how that number was calculated.

Winding back the clock: Taliban whips women

He announced 20,000 Afghani refugees would be accepted over the next five years. The UK Government would provide secure and legal entryways into the UK for those fleeing their homes. But Mr Johnson could not explain how those safe and legal entries could work if the Taliban refused to play ball.

He could confirm the commitment to accept Afghani refugees was additional to the current responsibility to receive 5,000 a year from Syria. But the PM could not explain how that tied in with his own government’s immigration policy.

Mr Johnson could confirm an extra £286m would be devoted to delivering the UK’s promises to those seeking refuge from the Taliban. But he could not explain how that figure had been reached and from where it would be sourced.

Mr Johnson clarified that priority will be given to women and girls and religious and other minorities, who are most at risk of human rights abuses and dehumanising treatment by the Taliban.

The new scheme is in addition to one for Afghani nationals who were former employees of the UK government. Those individuals are being relocated to the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy.

Taliban: In control of Kabul Airport

UNPREPARED GOVERNMENT BLASTED

With eighteen months’ notice of American intentions, Mr Johnson couldn’t have been surprised.

Former US President Donald Trump reached a unilateral agreement with the Taliban regarding US troops’ withdrawal in January 2020.

Mr Trump agreed – without consultation with NATO or the UK – US troops would end their operations in Afghanistan by May this year.

If that wasn’t plenty of notice for the UK government to decide on its own next steps, Labour leader Kier Starmer pointed out, it was difficult to see what would have.

Speaking to The Herald, Carmarthen East & Dinfewr MP Jonathan Edwards said: “”For a 20-year war to end in this manner, is not only a betrayal of those who were killed in Afghanistan and those who have been terribly injured, both physically and mentally but also raises serious questions about the exceptionalism which drives the world view of the Westminster establishment.

“The immediate priority must be to repatriate UK citizens who remain in the country and those Afghans who are now in danger after serving as part of the NATO operation.

“With the new regime in control of border crossings and the airport perimeter, providing safe routes for refugees out of Afghanistan without Taliban approval will be very difficult.

“Their fate remains uncertain and should be a matter of shame for the Western countries that have failed them.”

Even as the Commons debate unfolded, the Home Office briefed that those who’ve already fled Afghanistan and who try to enter the UK will get the same reception as other refugees.

The red-carpet treatment announced by the PM will be reserved for those with enough faith in Boris Johnson to wait in situ as religious zealots threaten their liberties and lives.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has released a non-return advisory for Afghanistan.

The Agency calls for a bar on forced returns of Afghan nationals, including asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected.

Hope for the future: Children in Kabul

‘THIS FEELS LIKE DEFEAT’

Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, the Chair of the Defence Select Committee, nailed Mr Johnson to the spot as he recounted his own experiences of serving in Afghanistan in both military and civilian roles.

Mr Tugendhat said he had seen “good men go into the earth, taking with a part of me and a part of all of us”.

He added that the Taliban takeover has “torn open” old wounds and “left them raw”.

The MP reserved particular scorn for President Biden, who’d suggested the Afghan army just gave up without the Americans there to support them.

“Those who have not fought for the colours they fly should be careful about criticising those who have,” he said.

Mr Tugenhadt concluded his emotive address by asking MPs to bear this image in mind: “It is the image of a man whose name I never knew, carrying a child who had died hours earlier – carrying this child into our firebase and begging for help.

“There was nothing we could do. It was over. This is what defeat looks like when you no longer have the choice of how to help.

“This doesn’t need to be defeat but at the moment it damn well feels like it.”

Mr Tugenhadt’s thoughtful contribution contrasted with the vacuous burbling of career contrarian and darling of the dim-witted Sir Desmond Swayne.

The Hampshire MP suggested that rather than fleeing, those seeking refuge should stay and fight.

There’s a word for taking a bold and unarmed stand against opponents with massively superior numbers and armaments.

Like Sir Desmond’s presence in the Commons, it’s pointless.

Trying to escape: Afghan civilians crowd roads

A NATION OF SANCTUARY

The UK has sent about 900 troops to Afghanistan to help evacuate British nationals and Afghans eligible to resettle in the UK.

Welsh Conservative leader in the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies MS, said: “The scenes unfolding in Afghanistan in recent days have been utterly chaotic, and the British Government’s new resettlement scheme will help thousands of at-risk Afghans.

“Many Afghans are in urgent need of our help after working with the UK to make Afghanistan a better place over the last twenty years.

“The UK has a proud history of welcoming those fleeing persecution or oppression, and now it is time for the Labour ministers in Cardiff Bay to step up to the plate and provide support.”

The Welsh Government’s Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt, said: “The Welsh government is working very hard with our local authorities, and indeed with the UK government, to ensure that we can do what we can to provide support in the right places to find homes for people fleeing the situation in Afghanistan.

“We are working towards being a nation of sanctuary.”

Ms Hutt added that the Welsh Government appreciated the importance of offering support for other people affected by the Afghan conflict, including veterans and those already settled in Wales.

Plaid Cymru Westminster parliamentary Leader Liz Saville Roberts MP said: “The UK Government has a practical and moral responsibility in ensuring the swift and safe evacuation of British citizens and personnel as well as Afghan nationals linked to the British/NATO mission in Afghanistan.

“This must be done as quickly as possible and, if necessary, allow for the processing of visas and other documentation later once they are safe.

“A quick and safe evacuation must be the priority above all else.”

First Minister Mark Drakeford tweeted: “We want Wales to be a Nation of Sanctuary, and we’ll do everything we can to support evacuations from Afghanistan.

“We’re working with the Home Office and councils on preparations to support those who need it.”

COUNCILS READY TO HELP

On Tuesday evening, the Leader of the Welsh Local Government Association Cllr Andrew Morgan said: “Earlier this evening, as the Leader of the Welsh LGA, with a delegation of other council leaders from across Wales and the UK, we discussed with UK Government Ministers how we can give sanctuary to the Afghan interpreters and their families.”

He added: He said: “If we all sign up to this, we’re talking less than a handful of families actually per local authority area, so the numbers are actually very, very small.

“I wouldn’t want it on my conscience that we see in a month’s time that a number of individuals and families are being killed in Afghanistan when we had the opportunity to help them come here.”

The response from West Wales’s councils has been immediate, with each offering help.

Carmarthenshire has already offered homes to 15 individuals or three households. The first arrived on July 3 on the first evacuation flight operating under the special procedure for former UK Government employees.

A spokesman for Ceredigion County Council said: “In view of the speed and impact of recent events in Afghanistan, Ceredigion County Council is urgently considering the options available and is in contact with the UKG officials.”

A spokesperson for Pembrokeshire County Council said: “Pembrokeshire County Council will engage and collaborate with Local Authority colleagues and Welsh Government to support Afghan people impacted by the current situation in Afghanistan.

“The Council will be proactive in its approach, but a set number of placements has yet to be determined.”

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Wales completes move to alert level 0

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THE MOVE completes the Welsh Government’s phased lifting of the alert level 2 protections, which were put in place on Boxing Day to keep Wales safe as the omicron wave swept across the country.

Some important protections will remain in place at alert level 0, including mandatory face coverings in most indoor public places, including on public transport.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said the relaxation of protections was possible thanks to the hard work of everyone in Wales and the success of the vaccination programme – more than 1.8 million booster doses have been given.

And, since the start of December, more than 36,000 people have come forward to have their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “We have passed the peak of this omicron wave and there are encouraging signs that cases of coronavirus may be starting to stabilise. But we all need to continue taking steps to stay safe – unfortunately the pandemic is not over yet.

“We are moving to alert level 0 and we will retain some important protections, such as face coverings in most indoor public places and risk assessments.

“We can do this thanks to the hard work and efforts of everyone in Wales and the remarkable success of our vaccine and booster programmes. Thank you all.”

On Friday 28 January, Wales will complete the move to alert level 0. This means:

  • Nightclubs can re-open.
  • The general requirement of 2m social distancing in all premises open to the public and workplaces will be removed.
  • The rule of six will no longer apply to gatherings in regulated premises, such as hospitality, cinemas and theatres.
  • Licensed premises will no longer need to only provide table service and collect contact details. The Covid Pass will continue to be required to enter larger indoor events, nightclubs, cinemas, theatres and concert halls.
  • Working from home will remain important but it will no longer be a legal requirement.
  • Businesses, employers and other organisations must continue to undertake a specific coronavirus risk assessment and take reasonable measures to minimise the spread of coronavirus, which may include 2m social distancing or controlled entry.

Face-covering rules, which apply on public transport and in most public indoor places will remain in force after 28 January, with the exception of hospitality settings such as restaurants, pubs, cafes and nightclubs.

Everyone must also continue to self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus but the Welsh Government has reduced the self-isolation period from seven to 5 full days.

People are advised to take 2 negative lateral flow tests 24 hours apart on days 5 and 6. The self-isolation support scheme payment will return to the original rate of £500 for all those who are eligible.

The next 3-weekly review of the coronavirus regulations will be carried out by 10 February, when all the measures at alert level 0 will be reviewed.

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Police investigating suspicious fire at Vodafone mast tower in Llanelli

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DYFED-POWYS POLICE are investigating a fire which caused significant damage to a service room at the Vodafone mast tower in Bigyn Road, Llanelli.  

The fire, which is being treated as suspicious, happened sometime between 10pm on Monday 24th and 2.30am on Tuesday 25th January 2022.

No-one was injured in the fire.

Anyone with information that could help officers with their investigation, or anyone who has CCTV or dash cam footage of the area at the time. is asked to report it to Dyfed-Powys Police, either online at: https://bit.ly/DPPContactOnline, by emailing 101@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk, or by calling 101.

If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.

Quote reference: DP-20220125-075.

Alternatively, contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously by calling 0800 555111, or visiting crimestoppers-uk.org.

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Denial of Wales-specific Covid inquiry ‘no longer tenable’ say Welsh Conservatives

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THE WELSH CONSERVATIVES have reiterated their call for an inquiry that focuses exclusively on the actions of the Welsh Government in tackling coronavirus in a letter to the First Minister.

It was prompted after it was revealed that the Welsh Government have been aware that NHS Wales was not prepared for an airborne virus as far back as 2004, following the SARS outbreak. Despite committing to an audit and allocation to rectify the lack of isolation facilities, this did not materialise.

The letter from Andrew RT Davies MS, which states “decision made in Wales should be scrutinised in Wales” follows a weekend when Mark Drakeford was keen to highlight that his government had “always taken a different approach in Wales [compared to the British Government], one that does things step-by-step”.

Concerned: Andrew RT Davies

In the letter, the Welsh Conservatives leader questions why, despite him stressing divergences in the approach to coronavirus, the First Minister still feels it “inappropriate to separate” from the British Government “when the time comes for accountability”.

The Labour Government policy is for its actions to be included in the UK-wide inquiry that will chiefly investigate the actions of the Conservative Government. There will be a Scotland-specific inquiry after Nicola Sturgeon commissioned one.

Joining the Welsh Conservatives in their calls for a Wales-specific inquiry are the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Group, the British Lung Foundation, Medics 4 Mask Up Wales, the Institute for Welsh Affairs, and Plaid Cymru.

Commenting on the letter, Andrew RT Davies MS said: “The position of exercising wide-ranging emergency powers that curtailed the liberty and closed the economy of the Welsh people but avoiding accountability through an inquiry that focusses on how those decisions were made is no longer tenable.

“Under Mark Drakeford, Wales has experienced the highest Covid death-rate of UK nations, seen its children lose more time for learning than anywhere else in the country, and imposed economically cruel and clinically unnecessary restrictions in an overzealous attempt to tackle the Omicron variant.

“We, along with bereaved families and medical groups, believe that the decisions that led to these outcomes need to be put under the spotlight, not hidden in the shadow of an inquiry that will inevitably focus on the British Government.

“Indeed, if Mark Drakeford is so confident in the actions of his government, then why is he against having them examined in a Wales-specific inquiry? That is what people will be asking when British and Scottish leaders have ordered investigations into their own handling of the pandemic.

“As I say to the First Minister in my letter, it is not too late for him to change his mind and take this opportunity to do the right thing and order that inquiry.”

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