All councils in the north of Wales set to offer safe homes for Afghan refugees
Gareth Wyn Williams, Jez Hemming and Liam Randall, local democracy reporters
All six local authorities in the north of Wales have committed to offering safe havens to at-risk Afghan refugees fleeing their homeland.
The pledge came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised that up to 5,000 Afghans would be given refuge in the UK this year, with up to 20,000 over the longer term.
There are around 10 families from Afghanistan who have or are in the process of being resettled in the north of Wales but that number is expected to increase following the Taliban’s dramatic return to power on Sunday.
MPs were recalled to Parliament early from their summer break for an emergency sitting today, three days after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, following the withdrawal of United States and United Kingdom forces from the country.
The Taliban swept in to take control of the nation’s capital of Kabul, putting at risk thousands of Afghans who worked with the occupying powers and sparking fears of a refugee crisis.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service, asked the region’s six local authorities to confirm if they would be willing to rehome some of those desperately trying to escape the country which borders Iran and Pakistan.
The return of the Taliban to power has heightened the need for safe havens, raising particular fears over the future of women and girls, as well as for the safety of former government officials and translators who supported the western military forces.
The House of Commons was recalled early from its summer recess, to debate the crisis and to formalise plans for a Home Office funded Afghan Resettlement and Assistance Programme.
During the debate, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated a promise that thousands of Afghans would be given sanctuary in the UK, as a result of the Taliban takeover.
Andrew Morgan, leader of the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), said that if every part of the UK took refugees fleeing Afghanistan, “less than a handful of families” would be housed in each area.
“I wouldn’t want it on my conscience that we see in a month’s time that a number of individuals and families are being killed in Afghanistan when we had the opportunity to help them come here,” he added.
The Welsh Government’s Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt, said it was “working very hard with our local authorities, and indeed with the UK government, to ensure that we can do what we can to provide support in the right places to find homes for people fleeing the situation in Afghanistan”.
“We are working towards being a nation of sanctuary.”
Councils in the north of Wales confirmed how many Afghan refugees are already living here and their intention to take in more.
According to Anglesey Council the authority is supporting the UK Government’s scheme with hopes to resettle one Afghan family within housing on the island. No arrivals had made it so far, however.
Gwynedd Council says that two individuals had already been housed after fleeing Afghanistan, with the authority committed to ‘housing more.’
The leader, Cllr Dyfrig Siencyn, added “The images emerging from Afghanistan at the moment are tragic, and we, as a council, are committed to doing everything within our power and resources we have available to provide refugees with a home, and support for them to resettle within their new communities.
“We have been working with the Home Office for some weeks to accelerate our plans to house Afghan refugees following recent developments in the country.”
Last month councillors in Conwy backed plans to house one Afghan family in the county.
The report noted that the authority would be expected to provide an integration package including accommodation, advice and assistance covering employment, welfare benefits, housing, health, education and utility supply, and registration with GP’s with assistance in securing school places for school aged children and cash support.
According to Denbighshire Council, one family has already been offered accommodation in the county.
A council spokesman added: “In November 2019, the Council’s Cabinet committed to supporting the UK Resettlement Scheme and under this scheme we have been able to offer accommodation to one family under the Afghan Relocation Assistance Programme.”
Last month it was revealed that Wrexham was initially asked to take in a total of five families as part of the Home Office’s Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy.
However, the local authority has offered to provide accommodation for double that amount to ensure people aren’t left behind.
Cllr Hugh Jones, the council’s lead member for people, said: “We recognise a particular case for these workers who have done a very important job in supporting our armed forces and our whole presence in Afghanistan.
“They put their lives at risk in order to do that and it’s important that they’re not left stranded.
“We feel that apart from our human responsibility to respond to these people, we have a duty of care as they have given service to our country and to our armed forces in particular.
“This is why instead of going for five families, we’ve offered to support with 10.”
Flintshire Council is also committed to backing the scheme, but did not reveal how many families they hoped to welcome.
Chief Officer for Housing and Assets, Neal Cockerton, said: “Flintshire will be supporting the Afghan Resettlement and Assistance Programme and is currently working with a number of agencies to understand specific requirements and details of such assistance.”