Council's pledge to support to three Afghan families in wake of crisis
- Credit: PA
South Cambridgeshire District Council has pledged to house and support a number of Afghan refugees in response to the unfolding crisis following the Taliban's takeover of the country.
On Tuesday, the government announced that it would set up a scheme to resettle 20,000 Afghan nationals - 5,000 in the first year - who are at risk.
SCDC has pledged to help to three families, who will be provided a home and essential support.
Councillors have also said they will continue to work with government and other agencies who are monitoring the crisis. This may mean further families could be supported to start a new life if funding is available and the right homes can be found.
The initial three Afghan families will be supported by the council to relocate to the UK through the Afghan Locally Employed Support (LES) scheme.
Council-owned homes are not planned to be used to meet the initial pledge to house three families and therefore it will not have an impact on the waiting time for local families who are already on the council’s housing waiting list.
Lead cabinet member for housing, Cllr John Batchelor, said: “The scenes of desperation as people try to escape from Afghanistan weigh heavily on us all, and those families who arrive in the UK as refugees will need our support.
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"They need safe and comfortable homes to build a base for their new lives, but also practical support to adjust to life in the UK, with access to everything from GPs and welfare, to skills training and school places for children.
“We’ve been working on these plans in recent weeks and, as long as funding and support continue to be available from the government, we will ensure we play our part in the national response for people who are experiencing life-changing trauma in Afghanistan.
"We are making an initial commitment to provide a home and essential support to three families from Afghanistan. However, we will continue to work with government and other agencies who are monitoring the crisis to review what is happening and ensure we play our part in the national response.”
The support follows commitments in recent years to provide homes to refugees from Syria, Iran and Sudan. Four families were housed under the previous scheme by the council and in December 2020 a further commitment to support up to an additional four families per year was made.
The council worked with an existing resettlement team and support workers at Cambridge City Council to integrate families who arrived during 2019/2020 into their new homes and communities, to ensure practical support was in place. Any new families arriving through the LES scheme will similarly need to be provided support and the Council is working on the detail of how that support will be provided through local partnerships.
Council leader, Cllr Bridget Smith, said: “We have been supporting refugees since 2019 and, in December 2020, renewed our commitment to support further families as part of the government’s pledge to assist 20,000 refugees in Syria and surrounding countries.
"In response to the unfolding situation in Afghanistan over the past few weeks we have also been working with the East of England Local Government Association to secure additional accommodation as part of the Afghan LES relocation scheme.
“The council remains committed to supporting refugees and we are clear that there is a moral and human need to continue to offer support to people who are forced to flee from their homes.
"We will continue to work with the East of England Local Government Association to look at what further support and assistance we can offer. If there is a similar commitment from all over the country this will ensure we can all play a part to meet the needs of people who are going through something that few people could even begin to imagine.”
Meanwhile, North Herts District Council leader Elizabeth Dennis-Harburg said: "We know many are keen to help support those who’ve aided us in Afghanistan as they arrive in the U.K. the families arriving are doing so under visa arrangements and are being supported by the Foreign Office and local services.
"The British Red Cross is coordinating help with donations, and has said it’s been overwhelmed by the generosity of the public. But it’s also receiving more physical donations than it’s able to work with. It’s therefore asked that those who wish to donate and provide support please do so via cash donations to the charity which it may then put to use meeting the specific needs of those who arrive.
"NHDC is speaking with local partners and charities to ensure we can play our part and help those in need. The situation is fluid and we will work with government and our colleagues across Hertfordshire.
"As things change I will keep you updated. I am writing to our MPs to begin conversations around our wider housing crisis to try and resolve the issues we all face."
Leader of Hertfordshire County Council, Richard Roberts, said: “Hertfordshire is a diverse and inclusive county and will do all we can to help those fleeing oppression and persecution find sanctuary, settle into their new communities, and overcome the trauma they have faced.
“We are working closely with central government, as well as our district and borough councils and voluntary organisations to ensure we have the necessary resources and support available to meet the needs of those arriving in the county.
“Our heartfelt thoughts go out to all those in the Armed Forces community affected by the conflict and the unfolding situation, as well as the Afghans who did so much to support our military and civilian endeavours. Support for our veteran community is readily available through the Veterans’ Gateway, and I would urge anyone who needs it to reach out.”