Opposition call on council to support more Afghan refugees in St Albans

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

More Afghan refugees should be supported by the district council, say local Tories.

SADC's Conservative group are on the council to match or exceed the amount of people helped by the Syrian resettlement scheme after it said it would only be supporting three families.

Opposition councillors in St Albans have called on the district council to support dozens more Afghan refugees, after the council said it would be supporting only three families.

But council leader Cllr Chris White said the idea of funding support for Afghan refugees by using money earmarked for the Syrian scheme is “nonsense” and SADC's current offer was in-line with others in Hertfordshire..

Under the Government’s Afghan citizens resettlement scheme up to 20,000 refugees will be welcomed in the UK over the coming years, which will work alongside the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy which supports those who assisted British forces during the conflict.

Conservative group leader Cllr Mary Maynard has submitted a motion to the full council meeting on Wednesday saying that St Albans should “send the Government a clear message” that they are willing to support the schemes.

She added the council “have a duty to help those people fleeing in fear of their lives”, especially those who worked with British troops and women who are at most risk of human rights abuses.

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Cllr Maynard’s motion said that the district council should actively and work with the county council and neighbouring councils to identify and fund appropriate accommodation, health and education provision.

The motion said: “In Hertfordshire, the county council is leading the initiative and Afghanistan nationals are staying in local hotels.

“ Locally, St Albans district Council has only offered to take three families, saying Afghan families are larger, they need bigger homes and there is high unmet demand for the few larger social homes.

“We have a duty to help those people fleeing in fear of their lives, particularly those who have worked with the Army and women who are most at risk of human rights abuses and dehumanising treatment by the Taliban.

“We need to send the Government a clear message that we are ready to help. We should match or exceed our effort with Syrian refugees where we found homes for 50 individuals.”

It continues that the council should give officers approval to draw on the £290,000 reserves earmarked for Syrian refugees to facilitate the new support.

While most of the cost of resettling families will be funded by central government, Cllr Maynard suggests this money could be used to fund one council officer to manage the project, ensure that proper support and help is given to the families, and to report back to the council on progress.

However, in response, Cllr White said the numbers may change and the council were offering similar provision to elsewhere in the county.

He also ruled out using money from the Syrian refugee fund to pay for support for newly arriving refugees.

Cllr White said: “This motion is characteristically muddled.

“First of all it suggests that St Albans is offering a lower number of accommodation units than other districts. In fact the council is offering the average number for Hertfordshire. One or two other districts are offering four. These numbers may anyway change.

“Secondly, it muddles absolute numbers with families. An Afghan family may be seven or more. So three families may be 20-25 people. The number of Syrian refugees is currently 48 (not 50) and I would expect the council to be able to help with up to 50 Afghans in due course. Much depends on finding suitable units for large families and government funding and settlement policy.

“Thirdly, it suggests that the council can raid the Syrian refugee fund to help the Afghans. This is nonsense: the Syrians have not gone away and these funds are for their continuing welfare, using earmarked government money. A different government funding scheme is being made available for the Afghan refugees.”

The motion will be discussed at the district council meeting on Wednesday (October 13).