4 Warning Signs The Government Is Not Yet Prepared To Take Afghan Refugees

Downing Street clearly has its work cut out in the months ahead.

Documents leaked on Friday suggest the government needs to “urgently” increase its funding for Afghan refugees or risk not being ready for the influx of migrants.

This is just the latest sign which implies Downing Street has not prepared enough for those it has offered sanctuary to coming in from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover, despite the repeated promises that “Operation Warm Welcome” to grant new arrivals housing, healthcare and education is well underway.

The government has offered to resettle 20,000 refugees over the next five years and has promised to take the 5,000 most vulnerable over the next 12 months.

Thousands of other Afghans with ties to the UK are entitled to settle in Britain too even if they are still stranded in Afghanistan, meaning current arrangements are unlikely to stretch far enough.

Here’s a breakdown of the main issues Downing Street still has to grapple with.

1. More funding is needed for resettlement

Leaked papers, seen by the BBC on Friday, estimate that it will cost the UK more than £2.5 billion over the next decade to rehome the refugees in councils across the country – a far cry from the funding already set aside by the Treasury.

According to the document, Afghan Resettlement: Domestic Support Offer and Funding Requirements, just under £400 million has been allocated to help resettle Afghans.

The paper, discussed by ministers on Wednesday, also said an additional £557 million might be needed for the next three years as a “substantial – but necessary – offer of support”.

The document suggested local authorities should be given £20,520 per person divided over three years, with funding for education and extra healthcare on top.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the document was “deeply worrying” and the government was “failing to step up and play its role in providing national coordination, leadership and support”.

He said: “Councils across the country want to do the right thing, so it’s deeply worrying that the UK government is failing to step up and play its role in providing national coordination, leadership and support.”

A government spokesperson said: “Councils in England, Scotland and Wales will have access to a share of an additional £5 million to help them provide the necessary housing and support to Afghans who have worked for this country in Afghanistan, but who now face threats of persecution or worse.”

There are already some schemes in place for those fleeing Afghanistan, including the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy for those who have worked with the government and a new Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme for vulnerable people. 

2. Councils have a housing shortage

In some areas – such as London boroughs Newham and Lambeth – councils are struggling to house those already waiting on social housing lists and so have taken fewer refugees in the past.

Other councils claim they would happily welcome fleeing Afghans but do not have the housing to do so.

Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council, Steve Cowan, told The Guardian: “Councils like ours stand by ready to assist Afghan refugees and are already doing so but we need the government to come forward with a comprehensive scheme that joins up the approach across government departments providing sufficient financial and organisational support.”

One refugee told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “We have been living in hotels for quite a while now in larger groups and it’s becoming tougher and tougher, so it’s time for us to move to a proper house. That is the overarching concern we are having, because we can’t have a bank account.”

3. Not all councils will resettle any Afghans

Norfolk councils have agreed that only three councils in Greater Norwich would offer refuge to the migrants.

The leader of Norwich City Council Alan Waters said there is already an Afghan community in that area, and migrants could feel “isolated” in the countryside.

Norfolk County Council spokesperson told the BBC: “It’s about making sure Afghans come to places where there is the right infrastructure for them, for example is there a halal butcher nearby or a mosque?

“We are not talking about temporary accommodation. We want to help them build a home and set up a new life.”

Mike Bird, council leader for Walsall, also told the broadcasters that the emphasis should be on the quality of life councils can offer those from Afghanistan.

He said educational needs are key, adding: “With children going back to school, and the pressure on school places, that in itself is something the government don’t seem to be taking into account.

“We’ve got the whole of the UK that should be considered. If only [some] councils are coming forward….then the government have got to step in and make sure it does happen.”

The housing ministry spokesperson said the government was calling on all councils to come forward with offers of support.

4. What about the people still in Afghanistan?

Speaking to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, foreign secretary Dominic Raab suggested the UK was still unsure how many people with the right to settle in Britain remained trapped in Afghanistan.

He said: “We are left with a significant proportion who could not establish their nationality. But also a category of more complex cases, particularly with significant wider families where one or other may have documented nationality or can demonstrate it, others and the concentric circle of immediacy of their dependents couldn’t. And that’s why it’s difficult.”

Afghans cannot afford to wait for years to come to the UK either. The Taliban are reportedly making lists to target those with links to the west already, meaning many Afghans could be forced to flee to a neighbouring country first.

They could then still choose to move to the UK as asylum seekers, without being granted refugee status from the government – meaning a further influx of Afghans who would need to be provided for.

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