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How Afghanistan resettlement scheme will work and what it means for Kent


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As Kabul fell to the rampaging Taliban the thoughts of many turned to those who had risked everything to help foreign forces in their attempts to rebuild the nation.

Over two decades coalition troops had not just overthrown the brutal Islamist group but allowed thousands of girls to go to school and university and improved access to infrastructure for many more.

Taliban fighters sit on the back of a vehicle in the city of Herat, west of Kabul (Hamed Sarfarazi/AP)
Taliban fighters sit on the back of a vehicle in the city of Herat, west of Kabul (Hamed Sarfarazi/AP)

But in a matter of days all of that progress was at risk after the US and UK withdrew the few remaining troops stationed in the county.

The Taliban swept in and, despite being vastly outnumbered, made light work of the western-trained Afghan army.

Suddenly the lives of thousands were at risk of being set back decades or worse snuffed out entirely.

In the past week the world has been shown horrific images of fleeing Afghans falling from the underside of planes.

At least 12 people have died at Kabul airport alone and now there are reports of desperate mothers hurling their babies over barbed wire fences to foreign troops.

Pressure mounted on the government to do something to help those whose lives were at risk.

In response it has announced a resettlement scheme to help people trying to escape.

It's dubbed “one of the most generous” in the UK’s history - but how will it work, will it go far enough and what will it mean for Kent?

What has the government promised to do?

Take up to 20,000 Afghan refugees over five years, with as many as 5,000 in the first year.

They will be offered the chance to set up life in the UK permanently.

Thousands of Afghan refugees are being relocated in the UK. Picture: UK MOD
Thousands of Afghan refugees are being relocated in the UK. Picture: UK MOD

Priority will be given to women and girls, and religious and other minorities, who are most at risk of human rights abuses and dehumanising treatment.

How will it work in practice?

It is still unclear how the scheme will actually work and detail provided by the Home Office so far is limited.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – which facilitates resettlement – welcomed the scheme but said it is awaiting further details, indicating plans are still being developed and suggesting it could be some time before it is in operation.

It is thought it will be modelled on the previous Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), which took place over a seven-year period.

The Taliban has retaken Afghanistan in a matter of weeks Photo: PA
The Taliban has retaken Afghanistan in a matter of weeks Photo: PA

The government said it will work with devolved administrations and councils to ensure Afghans taken in will have the support they need to rebuild their lives.

The UK is also said to be trying to find ways with other countries.

The government has insisted the process will not compromise national security and anyone being processed through the scheme will still need to pass strict checks.

What does this mean for Kent?

In Kent, district and borough councils are responsible for housing refugees; although KCC houses unaccompanied child asylum seekers.

The first offer of help came from Ashford council leader Gerry Clarkson, who was steadfast in his commitment.

Calling it a "moral obligation" and saying he "didn't give a damn" if people disagreed, he pledged to take in 10 families a year, of which three have already arrived.

Tonbridge and Malling has housed 10 families from previous schemes and confirmed it will also be offering support and is "currently in discussions on how and when to accept families within our borough".

Cllr Kim Tanner said: "The situation in Afghanistan has come about so quickly and no one can fail to be moved and alarmed by what the population is going through. We are proud to have stepped up in the past to help victims of conflict elsewhere in the world and stand ready to do so again."

Landlords keen to help can email housing.services@tmbc.gov.uk.

A spokesman said: "We currently have 10 families relocated to Tonbridge and Malling as part of existing refugee resettlement schemes."

Swale council took to Facebook to pledge its support.

A post asked for help to find homes for refugees, adding: "We are supporting the national Afghan Resettlement Scheme to help one or two families who have been identified as being in danger following the Taliban returning to power.

Cllr Gerry Clarkson Picture: Gary Browne
Cllr Gerry Clarkson Picture: Gary Browne

"We are appealing for anyone with vacant family-sized properties to get in touch if think they can help, by emailing resettlement@swale.gov.uk."

In Canterbury council 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.”

Hotel chain Best Western, which owns Abbots Barton Hotel in the city's New Dover Road, is working with the Home Office to provide rooms and facilities exclusively for 100 refugees.

Folkestone & Hythe's Cllr Jenny Hollingsbee confirmed the authority's support for the scheme.

Dover council said: “The council has participated in previous resettlement schemes, including supporting Syrian refugees. We await further guidance from the government on their plans for supporting refugees from Afghanistan.”

A number of charities in east Kent have also pledged their support.

Deputy leader of Medway Council Cllr Howard Doe confirmed Kent's biggest authority was preparing to welcome two families.

Dartford council spokesman Luke May said the authority was on hand to help and would find accommodation within the private housing sector.

A spokesman for Gravesham council, said: "We will be co-ordinating any resettlement programme involving Kent as required."

Thanet council said they were keen to work with authorities "to support the resettlement of Afghan families in accessing suitable accommodation and to offer settlement for some families in Thanet."

Maidstone council also confirmed its support.

Tunbridge Wells has pledged to help find homes for five Afghan families.

Councillor Andy Fairweather said: "I think residents who are aware of what’s been happening in Afghanistan will agree we have an obligation to help these people, many of whom have risked their lives to help our troops. I am very pleased we’re going to be able to help more than one family this year. It is the right thing to do."

The families will be living in private rented accommodation and the council wants to hear landlords who have family sized homes on 01892 526121.

Fergus Wilson has offered to sell the government 150 homes Picture: Matthew Walker
Fergus Wilson has offered to sell the government 150 homes Picture: Matthew Walker

And not to forget Britain's most controversial landlord Fergus Wilson, who has offered to sell his remaining 150 homes, spread across Kent, to the government.

He wrote to Dominic Raab but it is unclear if he responded as he was on holiday.

Did the Syrian resettlement scheme work?

Charities and officials alike generally regard the Syrian resettlement scheme a success.

A total of 20,080 Syrian refugees have set up life in the UK since 2015 as a result, according to figures published earlier this year.

Those who were escaping conflict in Syria were assisted by the government.

They were granted refugee status with full rights to live and work, and provided with housing and support, and help to integrate into their new communities.

Afghan refugees leave the Calais Jungle to be processed at a registration centre Picture: SWNS
Afghan refugees leave the Calais Jungle to be processed at a registration centre Picture: SWNS

What other help is being provided?

There is said to be confusion among refugee organisations over whether the government’s proposals will assist those trapped in Afghanistan in immediate need.

The plan focuses on resettlement which, if applied in the same way as previous schemes, requires those legally identified as refugees to have already crossed a border (for example to a nearby country like Pakistan) in order to be processed.

Some are asking what plans there are to relocate Afghan citizens who are stuck in the country and trying to escape. This could involve Home Office and Ministry of Defence officials processing exit visas in similar efforts to those currently being made to get British nationals to safety.

The UNHCR has also called for the rights of Afghans who make their way “spontaneously” to the UK to claim asylum to be preserved, and urged the government not to abandon its “legal or moral responsibility” to allow people to seek safety on its shores if arriving by means other than the resettlement scheme.

This would apply to large numbers of the more than 11,000 asylum seekers from across the globe who have crossed the Channel in dinghies this year.

In response to those spiralling numbers the government has vowed to make the method of arrival a factor in asylum applications.

Sergeant Robert Loughran-Dickson, from Deal, was one of 457 British troops to die in Afghanistan Picture: Ministry of Defence
Sergeant Robert Loughran-Dickson, from Deal, was one of 457 British troops to die in Afghanistan Picture: Ministry of Defence

The scheme is in addition to the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), which offers priority relocation to the UK for current or former locally employed staff who are assessed to be under serious threat to life.

Some 5,000 former Afghan staff and their family members are expected to be relocated to the UK by the end of this year under ARAP.

Since 2013, 3,300 have been resettled in the UK in this manner.

More than 25,000 refugees, around half of them children, have been resettled in the UK over the past six years under various government-funded schemes, the Home Office said.

What if the situation gets worse and more help is needed?

The government said it will keep the resettlement under review, with Home Secretary Priti Patel suggesting the programme could be expanded if needed and hinting that the number admitted in the first year could double.

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