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By SYLVIA HUI and PAN PYLAS
LONDON (AP) — The British government said it would take in 5,000 Afghan refugees this year, primarily women and children, as lawmakers packed Parliament Wednesday for a heated emergency debate on the U.K. response to the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has come under fire for the chaotic turn of events in Afghanistan, said a new “generous” refugee settlement program would allow up to 20,000 vulnerable
Afghans to seek sanctuary in the U.K. in the coming years. That number is over and above the 5,000 or so Afghan allies the U.K. is trying to evacuate from Kabul’s international airport.
Johnson said the U.K. would work to unite the international community behind a “clear plan for dealing with the Taliban.“ The prime minister, who is the current president of the Group of Seven leading nations, said he was look- ing to convene a meeting of leaders in coming days.
“We are clear, and we have agreed that it’d be a mistake for any country to recognize any new regime in Kabul prematurely or bilaterally,“ Johnson, who spoke with U.S. President Joe Biden and other world leaders in recent days, said.
“We will judge this regime on the choices it makes and by its actions rather than its words,” he added.
The refugee plan, which is similar to a similar package for Syria in 2015, came under immediate attack from lawmakers, who said it fell short of what was required, both in terms of speed and numbers.
“The government has said 5,000 will be brought to resettle in the U.K. this year,” Chris Bryant, a parliament member from the main opposition Labour Party, said. “What are the other 15,000 meant to do? Hang around and wait to be executed?”
Johnson said British officials were doing all they can to evacuate U.K. and Afghan citizens who helped the British forces based in Afghanistan and that the Taliban have not sought to disrupt the operation.
“The situation has stabi- lized since the weekend, but it remains precarious, and the .U.K officials on the ground are doing every- thing that they can to expedite the movement of people,“ he said. “At the moment, it would be fair to say that the Taliban are allowing that evacuation to go ahead.”
Johnson told Parliament that events in Afghanistan have “unfolded faster than even the Taliban predicted,” but the prime minister denied that his government had been caught unawares.
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said the Conservative government had to take its share of the responsibility for the crisis in Afghanistan.
“There’s been a major miscalculation of the resilience of the Afghan forces and a staggering complacency from our government about the Taliban threat,” he said.
Like Biden, Johnson is facing criticism over Britain’s hasty retreat from Afghanistan and its chaotic evacuation of British citizens and the thousands of Afghans it has employed over the past two decades. Criticism has been particularly acute from veterans and the families of the 457 British troops who died in the country while fighting there as part of the U.S.-led NATO military operation.
Demonstrations are planned outside of parliament to call for support for Afghans and their families.