Published: 06:00, 19 August 2021
| Updated: 15:23, 20 August 2021
A popular city hotel is preparing to welcome more than 100 Afghan refugees in the wake of the Taliban takeover.
The Home Office has sought the help of the Abbots Barton Hotel in Canterbury for the temporary settlement of men, women and children who have fled the troubled country.
There have been chaotic scenes at the airport in the Afghan capital of Kabul in recent days since the Taliban regime seized control, amid a desperate struggle to safely evacuate British nationals and selected Afghans.
The UK government has committed the nation to taking in up to 20,000 refugees who are desperate to escape Afghanistan.
Many of them have helped the British Forces in roles such as interpreters and now face reprisals as the Taliban regime takes hold.
Across the UK, local authorities and other private enterprises such as hotels have been asked to provide accommodation for those who meet the criteria.
The Abbots Barton Hotel in New Dover Road, which operates under the Best Western brand but is independently owned and run, is working with the Home Office to provide rooms and facilities exclusively for 106 refugees.
It is the first stage of a resettlement scheme which will eventually see them found permanent homes across the country.
The city council today (Thursday) announced it will be supporting the project.
A spokesman said: "These are individuals and their families who have worked with the British armed forces in Afghanistan.
"The Home Office is using Abbots Barton as a holding hotel until the families can be moved to permanent accommodation within the UK. Some may stay only a few days until this happens, while others may be in the hotel for a longer period.
"Our officers will be helping with this project by providing welfare support to these individuals and families while they are in Canterbury."
The city council said its officers will help liaise between people staying in the hotel, and the Home Office.
They added: "We will also help to make arrangements for any medical support that may be required, provide translation services and be on hand to offer any advice and information to ensure their time in the city is as smooth as possible.
"We will receive funding from the Home Office to cover the costs of our involvement.
"This is an important welfare project to look after people who have helped and supported our troops in Afghanistan over many years and we are delighted to be involved in making their lives easier at a very difficult time."
Kent MP Tom Tugendhat speaks to KMTV
The city council thanked residents who have already reached out with offers of clothes, bedding and toys.
It added: "This is not something we need at the moment, but should this change, we will post about it, so please keep checking our social media pages."
Yesterday, the hotel’s manager Mark Cotman said all press queries about its role in the resettlement of Afghans were being passed to Best Western’s head office, which was working with the Home Office.
Neither responded to KentOnline's request for information.
It is not clear whether guests who have booked in advance to stay at the hotel, or who have booked function rooms will have reservations cancelled as a result of the deal to accommodate refugees.
Leader Ben Fitter-Harding insists rehousing those seeking refuge will not be at the expense of the more than 2,000 local people already on the authority’s housing waiting list.
“We are keen to do our bit to help these people who are fleeing persecution, and are working with our private sector partners to find suitable rental accommodation, using funding from the Home Office,” he said.
“We are working quietly behind the scenes on this but I can say that it will not impact on our existing housing waiting list and nobody will be disadvantaged as a result.”
Abbots Barton reopened its rooms to guests in May after being shut for months during the country’s three lockdowns.
The three-star venue is made up of 77 rooms set in a refurbished Gothic building, among picturesque grounds a short walk from the city centre.
The Afghan crisis was debated for hours in the Commons yesterday, with dozens of MPs pledging support from their constituencies to help refugees.
"Like many veterans this last week has seen me struggle, through anger, grief and rage..."
Ex-forces member and Tonbridge and Malling MP Tom Tugendhat spoke about his time in Afghanistan, saying the withdrawal of British troops from the country is the biggest foreign policy disaster for more than 50 years.
In an emotional speech that drew applause from colleagues Mr Tugendhat said: "Like many veterans this last week has seen me struggle, through anger, grief and rage.
"The feeling of abandonment, the sacrifices my friends made, I've watched good men go into the earth. This week has torn open some of those wounds. I know aid workers, diplomats and journalists who feel the same. I know that we've all been struggling."
Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield said the government should ensure that those authorities who participated in a resettlement scheme should be properly funded.
She said: “The situation in Afghanistan is one few of us can imagine. It is fundamentally our duty to exhaust every possible avenue; to do all we have in our power to help those in need. We are all they have. We are safe and free and we must offer the same freedom to those who are at risk of losing theirs.
“We must offer safe routes out and we must offer asylum; no ifs and no buts. It is deeply disturbing that the fundamental rights of women and girls are under threat. The excellent Kent Refugee and Asylum Network has laid out what is needed; they are asking questions they need urgent answers to.”
She urged the government to commit funding to councils in Kent who were proposing to participate in the government’s resettlement scheme, saying support was needed to provide suitable accommodation.