Thousands of emails sent by MPs and charities highlighting Afghans and others who may have been eligible for rescue from the Taliban went unread by the Foreign Office, according to a report.
Over the course of the last week, an email address where politicians and the public were encouraged to send cases regularly had 5,000 unread messages, a whistleblower at the department told The Observer.
The account was being overseen by the team coordinating the withdrawal from Kabul airport, and claims of unopened emails raises the prospect that the true figure for those who should have been granted sanctuary in the UK but were left behind to face the Taliban is much higher than the official estimate of just over 1,000.
One report suggested as many as 9,000 people who may have been eligible to escape – such as women, journalists, and aid workers – did not make it onto a rescue flight.
The inbox was described by officials as having experienced “surges in demand” at various points throughout the airlift.
“It’s not just that MPs weren’t getting replies – their emails weren’t being read. The inbox currently has a 5,000-email backlog,” the whistleblower told the paper.
“It’s not that they are the emails which haven’t been actioned. It’s not even that they are emails which haven’t been processed and put into a spreadsheet. It’s that no one has actually opened the email.”
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said: “We have been working tirelessly to evacuate over 15,000 people from Afghanistan in the last two weeks.
“We deployed a 24/7 cross-Whitehall team based in our crisis hub to triage incoming emails and calls from British Nationals, ARAP applicants, and other vulnerable Afghans.
“We always cautioned that the nature of the security situation in Afghanistan and our responsibility to keep our people safe meant that we would not be able to evacuate everyone we wanted to.
“Our efforts have now turned to doing everything we can to help any remaining British nationals and the Afghans who supported us leave Afghanistan safely.”
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “The fact that so many emails have simply gone unopened is not the fault of civil servants but of government ministers who have been missing in action during this whole crisis. MPs and their staff have been hearing harrowing stories from so many people we should have taken care of but who have been abandoned to the Taliban.”
And many other MPs expressed their “upset and anger” over the apparent mismanagement of the rapid withdrawal.
Labour’s Apsana Begum said: “Our team and I have been raising the cases of absolutely desperate people whose lives are at risk in Afghanistan and seek help from the government but Boris Johnson and Doiminic Raab didn't put the resources into ensure the emails [were] even read. Disgraceful.”
Abena Oppong-Asare wrote: “I have tears of rage in my eyes … They all deserve so much better than this.”
Tulip Siddiq responded to the story: “Very rarely am I completely lost for words.”
And Andrew Gwynne tweeted: “I’d say ‘there are no words’, but actually there are quite a few I dare not tweet. I’m so upset and angry.”
The government said of the 15,000 people evacuated since the Taliban seized Kabul, 5,000 of those were British nationals and their families, while more than 8,000 Afghans who helped the British effort or who were vulnerable to persecution were also able to flee. The last flight and UK military personnel departed on Saturday.
Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, previously said he believed there were between 800 and 1,100 Afghans eligible under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (Arap) scheme who would be left behind, while around 100 and 150 UK nationals will remain in Afghanistan, although Mr Wallace said some of those were staying willingly.
The FCDO said it had handled more than 29,000 calls about Afghanistan on its consular lines since 11 August, with 92 per cent of the total number of calls received over the last 10 days having been answered.