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The Hastings, Rother and Wealden Refugee Buddy Project is one of the community groups which will provide support for Afghan refugees resettled in Hastings and other parts of East Sussex. Here is its mural at Goat Ledge on the St Leonards sea front.

First Afghan families allocated to Hastings as council pledges to aid resettlement programme

As the process of finding homes for Afghan refugees evacuated to the UK gets under way, Hastings Borough Council has agreed to resettle two families out of eight allocated to East Sussex in an initial step. Local refugee support groups are also gearing up to play a role. Nick Terdre reports.

Hastings Borough Council, which said last week it was ready to support Afghan refugees given the right to settle in this country, has initially been allocated two families out of eight allocated to East Sussex. A further two will be hosted by Eastbourne and one by Lewes. It is presumed the other three will be distributed between Rother and Wealden.

These families are being resettled under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) which was opened in April for staff currently or formerly employed by the UK government in Afghanistan and assessed to be at serious risk of threat to life.

The government is also in the throes of organising the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme for Afghans fleeing the Taliban and given visas to come to this country. Funding of £200m will be made available to meet the cost of this scheme in its first year.

Following the collapse of the Western-backed Afghan government, some 15,000 Afghan citizens were evacuated to the UK in the last two weeks of August, according to the government. Of these, 8,000 were brought here under the Arap scheme.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said in mid August that 20,000 refugees would be taken in by the UK over a period of five years under the new resettlement scheme – 5,000 will be accepted in the first year according to the Home Office. Some of these will have made it to refugee camps outside Afghanistan while others, although granted visas, have so far been unable to leave the country and are considered to be at risk of persecution – the government is negotiating with the Taliban to secure their safe passage out of the country.

Warm welcome

The government has set up Operation Warm Welcome to ensure Afghan refugees accepted under the Arap programme receive support to “rebuild their lives, find work, pursue education and integrate into their local communities.” They have been granted indefinite leave to stay, rather than the usual five-year period subject to renewal given to refugees whose asylum claim is accepted.

Funding of £12m has been committed to cover the education needs of resettled families and the NHS will receive an extra £3m to help it cope with their healthcare requirements.

Councils will share a £5m pot to help with the costs of resettling Arap families. So far some 700 Afghans in this programme have completed quarantine and been given Covid vaccinations.

Hastings is one of some hundred plus councils, out of more than 300 in the country, which have declared themselves willing to help Afghan refugees start a new life. It is understood the government will request feedback from local councils on the numbers they think they can accommodate, but the council told HOT it had not yet been asked to set a target. It has asked residents who have suitable accommodation to offer Afghan families to get in touch.

“Any property owners who have self-contained accommodation who might be able to help us house refugees should get in touch,” a spokesperson said. “Please email housingadvice@hastings.gov.uk.  We are looking to use private rented housing rather than relying on our social housing stock which is already under significant demand locally.”

“The situation in Afghanistan is frightening and as a council we will do all we can to help support those who need our help to escape such a horrific situation,” said Cllr Andy Batsford, lead councillor for Housing.

Proud record

“Hastings has a proud record of supporting refugees who are in need of safety and security. We have Syrian refugee families settled within the town, through a Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement programme.”

The council said it would work with community groups including the Refugee Buddy Project, the Links Project and Hastings Community of Sanctuary to ensure the resettlement programme was successful.

HBC also wants to help find work opportunities for the town’s new residents, and is encouraging employers with openings to offer to get in touch.

The other East Sussex local authorities are also participating in the resettlement schemes. Rother and Wealden district councils both have experience in resettling Syrian refugees. Rother residents with offers of accommodation are asked to contact tenant.finder@rother.gov.uk. One property has already been secured for resettling Arap families and agreement on two others is being finalised, according to Cllr Andrew Mier.

Councils elsewhere have pointed out the severe shortage of housing for serving existing residents and called on the government to provide sufficient financial and organisational support.

Refugee support charities such as Care4Calais are calling for donations of clothing and other items for refugees arriving on visas who in many cases have only what they could carry.

The Refugee Buddy Project’s operations and campaigns manager Alex Kempton told HOT that neither it, nor Hastings Community of Sanctuary, will collect clothing and other items until it knows the numbers and make-up of those who will be arriving, .

However monetary donations can be made through the group’s website, she said, pointing out that all of the funds raised go to helping refugees, and none on staff salaries. Donors can indicate if they wish their gift to be earmarked for Afghan refugees.

The welcome extended by the government to Afghan refugees accepted for resettlement contrasts starkly with its hostile attitude towards Afghan refugees arriving here without visas. Although many of them are also fleeing the Taliban, HOT understands that despite the UK’s international undertakings the Home Office still intends to turn down the asylum claims of those who reach these shores by ‘irregular’ routes such as crossing the Channel.

 

This article was amended by Nick Terdre on 2 and 7 September 2021.

 

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Posted 21:53 Wednesday, Sep 1, 2021 In: Local Government

1 Comment

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Pal Luthra

    Given the speed and scale of the human rights crisis in Afghanistan, the UK’s offer to resettle up to 20,000 vulnerable Afghans in the “coming years” risks being too little too late. Teachers, journalists, women human rights defenders and those who’ve worked with the UK are among the thousands of people at immediate risk under the Taliban
    Amnesty International recently reported on how Taliban fighters murdered nine ethnic Hazara men in grisly killings which saw several victims tortured to death.
    Caught flat-footed, the UK now needs to act with urgency and real generosity. We strongly support the proposed resettlement scheme to come. However, the ongoing evacuation and relocation effort should be made eligible for at-risk Afghans trapped in the country, as well as their family members, not just the current or the former UK employed staff.
    Afghans who arrive in the UK independently should receive protection, including those who are already here, and the Home Office should drop draconian plans to criminalise those who seek asylum in the UK. It should also look urgently to extend family reunion visas to enable the UK’s Afghan community to provide sanctuary to their loved ones who need to flee the country.
    Amnesty International’s Kent Network campaigns throughout Kent and East Sussex in support of human rights worldwide.
    Pal Luthra
    Amnesty International member
    Amnesty International UK website: https://www.amnesty.org.uk

    Comment by Pal Luthra — Friday, Sep 3, 2021 @ 10:14

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