With the Taliban overthrowing the Afghan Government there is considered to be a real threat to the safety of Afghan nationals who have been assisting the British Government and Armed Forces over the past two decades. The British Government recognises this threat of violent retaliation against people who we have a moral duty to safeguard and is hurriedly airlifting these Afghans and their immediate families to safety in the UK. Our Government is organising a national resettlement programme designed to provide a safe haven for these Afghan families and is looking for local council help in providing permanent accommodation across the UK.
Local authorities, including Ashford Borough Council, are being asked to volunteer to play a part in this resettlement process. We are proud to be in a position where we can offer assistance to those Afghans who have been assisting the British Government and our Armed Forces in Afghanistan.
This is national government policy and we are providing a humanitarian response.
We passionately believe it is the right thing to do. We are proud that Ashford is a caring borough. Ashford is marketed as international town and we have an international outlook on the world. We want the families to be proud to live here and we will be proud to have them.
Initially Ashford is ready to welcome between five and ten Afghan families in the first year of the national resettlement scheme. Indeed, one family arrived last month and two more families are due to arrive in the next few weeks. We are best equipped in the borough to receive refugee families and so we are negotiating with the Home Office to ensure that those who arrive are indeed families.
We want to set the standard in responding to this humanitarian situation – we want to welcome these vulnerable families to our borough and integrate them into our communities quickly, offering them support so that they settle and become part of their new communities as quickly as possible. We believe such an approach is the right thing to do and we want Ashford to be an exemplar in this regard.
The Home Office is looking at a range of options across the UK to provide short term "holding accommodation" for families who have cleared quarantine but have not yet been allocated to more permanent accommodation. The use of hotels in Kent is being considered but nothing has so far been confirmed. If the decision is taken to locate Afghan families at a hotel in the borough, then Ashford Borough Council has said it would fully support such a project.
Under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme (VPRS) launched in 2015, Ashford Borough Council was one of the first local authorities to step forward and has so far welcomed 34 families totalling 146 refugees. Ashford decided to oversee the project directly and appointed specialist staff within our Housing team to take full responsibility for helping the families integrate with the local community. It was a key decision that no local resident in housing need would suffer as a result of us committing to this programme, and all accommodation secured has been in the private sector which would not have otherwise been available to those on our housing register. Refugee resettlement schemes are funded by the Home Office so there is no major financial burden on councils.
Difficult to be precise but we believe the arrival of the families will be spread out over time and so there will be adequate time for the council to manage the process of the integration of these families carefully and appropriately and so that no undue strain is placed on communities or service providers.
The emphasis will be firmly on integration. From the moment each family arrives in this borough the council is responsible for their welfare. The council will lead and coordinate a multi-agency approach – from housing the families to assisting them access the assistance, education, healthcare and specific support they may need, so that they settle and become part of their new communities swiftly.
The emphasis for all of our work on this humanitarian response is integration. We will ask the communities into which the refugees are placed to ‘adopt’ each family and to make them feel welcome.
Just as the council did with the Syrian refugees, the decision has been taken that no social (‘council’) housing will be used to accommodate the Afghans, ensuring that they are not seen as “jumping the queue” when it comes to council housing.
Refugee families are in private sector accommodation, provided by charitable landlords, private landlords and via the council’s lettings agency. The authority is currently reviewing what accommodation is available to the Afghan families and has issued an appeal to private sector landlords to step forward to assist with the process. In return the council will support the families and work alongside landlords to help those assisted to integrate into our community.
Private sector landlords interested in working with Ashford Borough Council to resettle Afghan families should contact Anne Forbes BEM, Refugee Resettlement Programme Project Co-ordinator, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The UK government has undertaken to reimburse the financial costs to local authorities participating in this scheme during the first year. This is coming from the foreign aid budget and the commitment will assist in the support of the council’s arrangements to house and integrate these families.
As we did with our highly successful Syrian programme, we are working very closely with our partners at Kent County Council (KCC) and in the National Health Service (NHS) to ensure that we only place refugee families into communities where there are school places available or where there is capacity at doctors’ surgeries, for example. We will also be ensuring that the needs of each family are catered for through the provision of specific support from partners in the voluntary sector too.
Business as usual! As we are not proposing to house refugees in our own housing stock there won’t be any impact for those on the waiting list for a council property.
One Afghan family arrived in July and two more families are due to arrive in the next few weeks. There is not a definitive answer to when additional families are expected to arrive. We are deep in preparation and will be ready to welcome families as soon as they are able to come here.
The Afghan people who are being airlifted by our Armed Forces to the UK as part of this Government-organised relocation scheme are coming direct from Kabul, not from Calais or anywhere else – this is part of the national scheme that we are linked into and we are working with the Home office at all times.
The people who are going to be placed in our borough will have been screened by the Home Office before they are transported to the UK and we will know all about them before they arrive – in terms of their ability to speak English, whether they have children so that we can liaise with relevant organisations to get them the support they need.
These refugees may have been exposed to severe trauma in their own country and so may have specific issues and vulnerabilities that they need proper assistance with when they arrive here. Again, we will link up with relevant organisations and healthcare providers to ensure that they receive the assistance they will need.
Addressing any concerns about families arriving in Ashford from a country which is on the COVID-19 ‘red list’, Ashford has confirmed that all arrivals from Afghanistan are being placed into quarantine until they are deemed fit to move on. Vaccinations can be arranged as part of the health and social care provided to Afghans settling in Ashford.
Thorough security checking will be carried out on all Afghans who come to this country as part of the Government’s relocation programme.
With funding available from central government there will not be an issue in meeting costs for year one of the scheme. We await details on funding going forward but residents should be reassured that we will quickly identify the way to manage the process smartly and cost-effectively, and so should any financial resource be required from the council itself, it will only be an appropriate and sustainable level.
No, we have really close links with organisations at KCC and the NHS as education and healthcare providers, and in the voluntary sector so that we can link the families into the appropriate support for them. We will only be leading and co-ordinating the local response.
We are drawing upon our considerable experience of welcoming vulnerable Syrian families to our borough and integrating them into our communities. We have held meetings with the Home office representatives as we prepare to welcome and support these vulnerable families from Afghanistan.
We will be providing the basics, accessing furniture etc that is reasonable to each family’s needs. However, we want to provide a good quality service, normalising the situation for each family.