Leeds councillor says UK’s unpreparedness for Afghan refugees ‘entirely the fault of the Americans’
Leeds City Council is set to ask the Government to improve communication over plans to rehouse refugees in the city, following confusion over the arrival of Afghan migrants in the summer.
Speaking at a meeting of the authority’s Executive Board, Coun Mary Harland claimed “changes at very short notice” were not helpful for migrants or council officers.
However, one senior councillor jumped to the defence of Government, claiming the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan during the summer was “entirely the fault of the Americans”, and that
European countries had had the “rug pulled” from under them.
The meeting also heard how the council has not yet permanently housed all families arriving at the city from Afghanistan, while it was still working to provide school places for all child refugees.
The comments came during a discussion on the council’s fifth annual report on migration, which claimed more than 8,000 people moved to Leeds from abroad in 2019.
Leeds City Council’s executive member for communities Coun Mary Harland (Lab) said: “We are seeing how quickly the migration agenda is changing at a global level and impacting on the UK.
“This report highlights a whole city approach.”
“City partnerships have led to engagement and support from the most vulnerable migrant households which ultimately benefits all Leeds residents.
“Some of the key headlines include changes to immigration policy including Hong Kong nationals overseas, Afghans and the new immigration plan that will impact on asylum seekers.”
The board agreed to ask senior civil servants at the council to write to the Home Office, requesting “improved communication” between government and local authority, to ensure councils can effectively support migrants arriving in the city.
Coun Harland added: “We are often told of changes at very short notice, which isn’t helpful to the team or to those coming into our city.”
The Home Office had made an announcement in August that the UK was prepared to welcome 10,000 Afghan refugees during this year, and a total of 20,000 “in the long term”.
But councils were left waiting weeks for Whitehall to detail how this would be managed at a local level.
But Leeds City Council’s Conservatives group leader Coun Andrew Carter claimed this was not the UK Government’s fault.
He said: “You have to accept, with the Afghan situation, it was completely beyond the Government’s control.
“President Biden, for good or worse, pulled the rug out in Afghanistan, precipitated a humanitarian crisis with people flooding to get out of the country, and gave the UK, France and Germany no notice whatever.
“You need to temper the lack of information with the fact that sometimes our partners take action, when we could have had a much more ordered migration of people we needed to protect from Afghanistan – that is entirely the fault of the Americans.”
He asked whether all children who have come to Leeds from Afghanistan of school age had been found school places.
Leela Young, the council’s head of community relations, said: “We are working with children’s services and the children’s admissions team to get all of the children school places in local primary and high schools – that is currently taking place at the moment.
“Because of the rapid evacuation out of Afghanistan, there has been a huge volume of Afghan citizens who have arrived in the UK. The home office has been using bridging accommodation across the country, some of which includes hotels.
“There is a backlog at the moment with matching people from hotels.
“While that backlog is in place, there will be a delay.”
She added that the majority of housing offered would either be in the private rented sector or working with social landlords.
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