Towns and cities across the UK are calling for the government to take in more refugees in response to the humanitarian crisis developing in Afghanistan.
Dozens of local councils, including major cities like Birmingham, Southampton and Liverpool, have pledged to welcome Afghans under the Home Office’s new resettlement programme or existing relocation schemes following the Taliban takeover.
The government has committed to giving 5,000 people refuge under the Afghanistan citizens’ resettlement scheme in the coming year – with a vague ambition to provide sanctuary to a total of 20,000 Afghans over the “long term”.
The Independent has backed calls for ministers to be more ambitious in its plan to resettle Afghans. Our Refugees Welcome campaign is calling for the government to offer sanctuary to as many people as possible, and for local authorities and charities devoted to their welfare to be given the strongest of support.
Councils from across the UK have come forward to say they will welcome these refugees into their local communities – with some urging ministers to go further – disputing claims from the home secretary that it would not be possible to resettle larger numbers.
The home secretary said on Wednesday that the UK could not accommodate 20,000 refugees “all in one go” after criticism of the new scheme and its target.
The Independent is aware of at least 34 local councils that have so far pledged to participate in either the locally employed staff scheme known as the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), which has already started, the wider resettlement scheme or both.
Many have also spoken out against the figure the Home Office has proposed, arguing that the UK can “do far more”.
Ms Patel scrapped the UK’s numerical commitment on wider refugee resettlement earlier this year, marking the first time in almost two decades that Britain has not committed to resettling a specific number of refugees.
A number of authorities, including Bristol, Newcastle and Swansea, have signed up to the City of Sanctuary scheme to identify more safe routes for Afghans.
A City of Sanctuary UK spokesperson said: “We welcome the commitment to resettle people fleeing Afghanistan but 5,000 people this year is woefully inadequate.
“We call upon the prime minister and the home secretary to quickly identify how the UK will work with local authorities to ensure that more than 5,000 are supported to settle in our communities in the coming weeks and an additional annual target of 10,000 per year for the Global Resettlement Scheme.”
Kevin Bonavia, cabinet member for democracy, refugees and accountability at Lewisham Council, told The Independent the government’s commitment to resettle 5,000 Afghans in one year was “nowhere near what’s required” in the face of a “humanitarian catastrophe”.
“Ms Patel claims it is not possible to resettle any more ‘in one go’. That’s simply not true. Our country has been able to do far more when the political will is there, with 11,000 from Hungary in 1956 and 30,000 from Uganda in 1972,” he said.
“The political will is definitely there at a local level with councils across the UK mobilising to provide the homes and support.”
Mr Bonavia said that rather than “one-off bespoke” commitments from government with “different complicating criteria”, ministers should introduce a comprehensive national resettlement programme with annual targets to allow councils to “plan ahead and ensure they can resettle refugees wherever they come from”.
No 10 has defended its resettlement scheme and insisted that only 5,000 fleeing Afghans will be offered sanctuary in the UK over the next year because it is “very rare” for people to abandon their country.