Published: 12:11, 17 August 2021
| Updated: 14:07, 17 August 2021
Ashford council says it is preparing to take in families fleeing Afghanistan under the government's proposed resettlement scheme - and the leader has strong words for those who disagree.
Conservative leader Gerry Clarkson has confirmed that the authority has already approached the Home Office offering to assist and provide housing and support for families from Afghanistan.
He said the authority would use its experience of helping Syrian refugees to ensure families were well supported and the council would be appealing to private landlords to provide appropriate accommodation.
Cllr Clarkson said: “First and foremost, we are keen because it's a moral imperative to us because we are a caring borough. We absolutely don't just articulate that, we actually mean what we say about caring for our population. And that's why we want to be part of this, we were a bit ashamed that western governments have come out of Afghanistan in this way.”
“It's a no brainer to me - we must help these people, these are people who helped us. We have a loyalty and respect for them and we need to help them.
“If you find someone bleeding on the roadside, you don't just walk past because you've got other problems on your plate.”
He said exact numbers had not been calculated but was likely to involve about 10 families a year, a similar number to those it had helped Syrian refugees over a five-year programme.
The council has won accolades for the way in which it had taken in families fleeing Syria and helped them with housing and finding work.
It was the first council to participate in the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme (VPRS) set up in 2015.
Cllr Clarkson said families from Afghanistan were likely to need less intensive support and would in time find jobs.
He said he was unconcerned that people might be unhappy with the idea of accepting more refugees, adding: "These people are going to be useful contributors to the country. They're going to get jobs and they're mainly English speaking.
“People may condemn it and gripe about it but frankly I don't give a damn about that because I think the vast majority of people who are intelligent, reasonable and sensible will realise that what we're doing is really the right thing to do.”
He urged other authorities to come forward to help.
Cllr Clarkson's comments come after landlord Fergus Wilson, who has historically owned many homes in Ashford, offered to sell the government 150 properties to house Afghan refugees.
Since US and British forces pulled out of the war-torn Middle Eastern state after 20 years the Taliban has retaken large swathes of the country.
There have been reports of women being turned away from universities and offices, while the visa system for study in the UK has been paused.
Meanwhile former interpreters are pleading with the UK to grant them asylum amid fears they will be killed for aiding the coalition.
Britain and other western countries have been scrambling to get their remaining nationals out before it was too late.
Officials said they were doing all they could to assist the estimated 2,000 Afghans who had worked with the British during their time in the country to relocate while there was still time.
The Prime Minister is to unveil a “bespoke” resettlement scheme for vulnerable Afghans as efforts to get British nationals and other support staff back to the UK continue.
No 10 said Boris Johnson would give more information about the refugee scheme in the coming days, with the policy anticipated to be focused on helping women and girls.
In Afghanistan, British armed forces numbers are to be bolstered to 900, with a further 200 announced by the Ministry of Defence on Monday.
They will be involved in the push to bring UK nationals home and secure the safety of selected Afghans, an effort that has intensified since the Taliban took Kabul following their lightning offensive which has shocked the West.
The decision to send in additional troops follows frantic scenes at Kabul airport that left seven people dead, including some who fell from a departing US military transport jet.
However, in a defiant statement, US President Joe Biden said he stood “squarely behind” the decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, vowing not to let the war enter a “third decade”.
Despite Allied intentions to withdraw armed forces entirely by next month, both the US and the UK are sending in further troops to assist with evacuation efforts, a move that armed forces minister James Heappey said would make controlling Kabul airport easier.
The Afghanistan veteran, who said the government had been working on the premise that Kabul would hold until next year, told BBC Newsnight: “The airport is a focal point for many people who are very desperate and unsurprisingly there have been a number of incursions into the airfield over the last 24 hours, which has required it to be closed at various stages.
“But the arrival of the US 82nd Airborne and 2 Para from the United Kingdom’s Parachute Regiment should mean we are able to secure the airfield more consistently over the coming days.”
The Telegraph reported that the resettlement scheme could be similar to that used to take in Syrian refugees in 2015, which saw women with children, people with serious medical conditions and survivors of torture prioritised.
The paper said the government had yet to determine how many Afghan refugees could benefit from a similar initiative, but the Syrian programme enabled 20,000 to be resettled over six years.
Mr Heappey, asked whether women’s rights activists could be among those to be welcomed to Britain, said: “It is not in my gift as the minister for the armed forces to say here and now, yes they should, but I know their cries are not falling on deaf ears.”
With the refugee scheme in the pipeline, the Home Office also announced that restrictions on the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) – the programme to resettle Afghan nationals who have supported British efforts in the central Asian country – have been eased.
The department has removed the requirement for applications to be made in Afghanistan, allowing those who are able to flee the Taliban-occupied area to do so without compromising their eligibility to settle in the UK.
With Afghan interpreters hiding in basements out of fear of being killed by the Taliban, former British Army officer Charlie Herbert told BBC Newsnight that efforts to rescue those who had supported UK troops should be a priority.
Kent MP Tom Tugendhat says the withdrawal of British troops in Afghanistan is the biggest foreign policy disaster for more than 50 years
“If we can salvage some dignity from this humiliation, it would be to get those people out of Kabul as quickly as we can,” said the former major general.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The UK team in Afghanistan is working around the clock in incredibly difficult circumstances to help British nationals and as many others as we can get to safety as soon as possible.
“At the same time, we are bringing together the international community to prevent a humanitarian crisis emerging in Afghanistan – it’s in everyone’s interest not to let Afghanistan fail.
“That means providing whatever support we can to the Afghan people who have worked so hard to make the country a better place over the last twenty years and who are now in need of our help.”
Mr Johnson wants G7 leaders to focus on ensuring Afghanistan does not once again become a source of international terrorist threats, No 10 said.
There will also be an effort to secure support for the people of Afghanistan, including through increased humanitarian assistance and agreeing expectations of whatever government emerges in Afghanistan.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has refused to rule out sanctions against the Taliban if they fail to co-operate internationally.