Call for Afghan refugees support by St Albans councillors

Afghan refugees disembark at the Torrejon military base as part of the evacuation process in Madrid

Afghan refugees disembark at the Torrejon military base as part of the evacuation process in Madrid. - Credit: AP Photo/Andrea Comas

With the Afghan crisis worsening by the day, St Albans councillors are urging immediate action to help refugees arriving in the district.

The unfolding crisis in Afghanistan is expected to lead to up to one million Afghans becoming refugees. The majority are likely to seek refuge in neighbouring countries such as Iran and Pakistan, while some will seek safety in Europe.

Nearly 60,000 Afghans have sought asylum in Europe since 2015 and the numbers are likely to rise.

The Government expects to increase the Afghanistan aid budget for development and humanitarian purposes to alleviate suffering. The Home Office has said "it will be guided by the capacity of local authorities" when deciding how many Afghan refugees to allow to settle in the UK.

Now St Albans district council is being urged to send the Government a clear message that it is ready to help.

Members of the Conservative group on SADC have submitted a motion to full council this week calling for them to:

• Actively support Government initiatives to help Afghan refugees, including the new Afghanistan citizens’ resettlement scheme, offering to support families and individual refugees;

• Give officers approval to draw on the £290,000 Syrian refugees earmarked reserve to facilitate this support;

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• Work with the county council, neighbouring councils and other agencies to identify and if necessary, fund appropriate accommodation, health provision, education, jobs and support for refugee families.

• Provide ongoing support and help to Afghan families and individual refugees, helping them to integrate and thrive as residents of the district.

Much of this is likely to be funded through central Government grants, but the council is being asked to use the earmarked reserve funds to cover temporary bread and breakfast accommodation for the first arrivals; and the cost of one officer to manage this project, ensure that proper support and help is given to the families and to report back to council on its progress.

Cllr Mary Maynard, who proposed the motion, said: "We have all seen and been touched by the desperate plight of the Afghan people, particularly the women and girls, many of whom are fleeing this repressive regime.

"Helping Afghan refugees is our duty as a civilized community.  The Conservative administration at St Albans council stepped up to help Syrian refugees and many families were grateful for the support. 

"St Albans MP Daisy Cooper has said St Albans wants to help, but the government needs to give the council more money.

"She is clearly unaware that the previous Conservative administration left a budget of £290K for refugee relief, which is untouched and which could be deployed immediately to help these desperate people. There is no reason not to offer immediate help, the money is already there.

"The Government is acting on this now and we call on this administration to contact them and to work with them."

But council leader, Lib Dem Cllr Chris White, said although the motion is fine in principle it shows a lack of understanding about how the system works.

"The Syrian funds are for Syrian refugees and the Government would not permit them to be diverted. And even if it were possible I can't see the point of depriving the Syrians - who are still with us!

"There needs to be new funding and I am grateful that Daisy Cooper has already asked for this via a parliamentary question.

"The point about temporary bed and breakfast is incomprehensible: the refugees already here and who are due to arrive are being put up in hotels and to remove them into bed and breakfast would be a devastating backward step. Hotels give them three meals a day, do their laundry and have the social support of others around.

"Refugees move into a council area, once a home is found - that is how the Syrian scheme worked."