To my mind there is a clear distinction between sanctuary and resettlement.
There are many brave Afghan men and women who are currently in grave danger and it is right that we offer them sanctuary, if they can get to us or if we can rescue them. Given their bravery and commitment to their native land, I would expect such sanctuary to last as long as the danger itself. Once the opportunity arises (if it does, but it may never) I anticipate that they would want to return to help rebuild their country.
There are very many more Afghan men and women who are not in grave danger, nevertheless they have lived difficult lives in a war-torn country, they are about to lose what rights they have and their life chances and opportunities are about to get very much worse. There have been demands in Parliament that we resettle permanently as many of them that wish to come to our shores and are able to escape.
With the best will in the world, though we regret their desperate situation, we are in no position to make that unlimited offer.
Angela Merkel made such an offer in 2015 and the result was one million takers.
We ought to help as many as we can, but it does come down to a question of numbers. In the circumstances, our offer to accommodate 20,000 Afghans -especially the most vulnerable women and girls, is proportionate. Particularly so, when our support to other nations in the region which take refugees is taken into account.
There are countless places in the world where life is so much less eligible than here in Britain: Countries where there is ghastly oppression, injustice, poverty, warfare, famine and disease. The people of those countries would dearly wish to come to Britain for a better life -and many try to. It is to our credit that we wish we could be more generous in our welcome. I believe that our contribution is better made in development aid deployed to the places from which they seek to escape (that is why I was dismayed by our decision to cut our aid budget, though we remain the world’s second largest donor).
Some go further and argue that not only should we have a much more generous resettlement scheme, but that -because of our involvement in Afghanistan over 20 years – we are obliged to do so. I do not agree and I revert to the distinction that I have drawn: We do have an obligation to provide sanctuary to those who, by assisting us or by the roles they have played, have put themselves in particular danger. For the wider population, beyond our offer of 20,000 places, our obligation has been met in blood and treasure over 20 years as we sought to bring a measure of security, education, healthcare and economic development to their country.
I wish that we had completed the job and that we had avoided the huge strategic error of withdrawal. I pray that we will learn the right lessons.