Leeds Council wants Government guidance before committing to helping further Afghan refugees

Leeds has promised to play its part in helping relocate Afghan refugees in the city, but would not be drawn on how many families it is planning to help.

Wednesday, 18th August 2021, 1:18 pm
Updated Wednesday, 18th August 2021, 1:54 pm

The Afghan Relocation Scheme in Yorkshire and Humber is being coordinated by Migration Yorkshire, with the scheme set to be delivered by local authorities in partnership with the voluntary and community sector.

It is understood local authorities across Yorkshire have pledged to accept 50 to 70 extra families.

Following the withdrawal of NATO troops, the Taliban quickly led a takeover of Afghanistan’s governance, leading to huge numbers of people trying to leave the country.

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Former Afghan interpreters and veterans hold a demonstration in Parliament Square, London, calling for support and protection for Afghan interpreters and their families. Picture date: Wednesday August 18, 2021.

Leeds City Council would not be drawn, however, on how many Afghan families it would help support, but committed to joining in with the effort to help with the humanitarian effort.

A council spokesperson said: “We are already working alongside other councils across the region as part of the current Afghan relocation scheme, coordinated by Migration Yorkshire, and will consider any further proposals put forward by the government in due course.”

According to Migration Yorkshire, 24 families have already settled so far in Yorkshire and the Humber, with another 10 expected soon.

Head of Migration Yorkshire Dave Brown said: “This region stands ready to support any humanitarian response to the situation in Afghanistan and to accept our fair share of people whose

lives are at risk.

“We are proud of how Yorkshire & Humber have supported Afghan families so far, and they are integrating well. We know that the people, communities and support organisations will do what is necessary to welcome people in this humanitarian emergency.”

The relocation scheme was accelerated in April of this year, coinciding with plans to withdraw NATO troops from Afghanistan.

It offers relocation to any individuals who face intimidation or threat to life because of their employment by the UK Government, and is available to eligible Afghans and their pre-existing partners and minor dependent children, who are themselves Afghan citizens.

People relocated in the UK are given permission to stay for up to five years initially. At the end of the five years, they can apply for permission to stay permanently.

Accommodation and integration support in the UK are provided by participating local authorities, with funding from central Government.

A Government spokesperson said: “We have so far resettled over 3,300 Afghan interpreters, staff and their families who served alongside our brave military.

“Our officials are working as quickly as possible to bring more people to safety in the United Kingdom.

“No one should be in any doubt of our commitment to build upon our proud history of resettling refugees in need of protection. Since 2015 we have resettled more than 25,000 vulnerable refugees, around half of whom are children, and earlier this year the Home Secretary opened a new visa for Hong Kong BN(O) status holders to reflect the UK’s historic and moral commitment to those who have had their rights and freedoms restricted.

“Through our New Plan for Immigration we will strengthen safe and legal routes to the UK for refugees from regions of conflict and instability, and discourage dangerous journeys.”

But these plans have been criticised by organisations dealing with refugees in the UK.

Tim Naor Hilton, CEO of charity Refugee Action, said: “The tragic situation in Afghanistan is a real-time example of why we need a strong asylum system. We can graphically see why people risk their lives to find safety from such horrific situations.

“We believe most people in the UK would want their country to play its part in helping Afghans to find such safety. Yet the Government’s anti-refugee Bill currently going through Parliament would effectively end the asylum system and it offers no new routes to safety.

“It’s the legal equivalent of pulling up the drawbridge. Under this Bill, Afghans arriving in the UK would most likely be met with punishment, not protection, and potentially shipped off to the faraway islands for who knows how long to be “processed” in detention centres.

“Instead of whipping up hostility against those risking their lives to find shelter on our shores, we want the Government to build a refugee protection system that actually provides sanctuary.

The extreme and nasty anti-refugee Bill must be thrown out and a long-term commitment for refugee resettlement made. In this way the UK will be able to protect those fleeting tomorrow’s crisis and not just today’s.”