The distressing scenes in Afghanistan during recent weeks reflect a terrible humanitarian crisis, which no-one could possibly ignore, and East Suffolk Council is committed to helping where it can. With this in mind, I would like to update councillors on the role we are playing, in partnership with others, to support displaced families and those fleeing persecution.
Councils across Suffolk are taking a county-wide approach and we are all equally determined to provide whatever support we can. Indeed, Districts and Boroughs in Suffolk have already welcomed individuals, both in Ipswich and Lowestoft, under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) which was launched in April 2021.
Under this scheme, any ‘Locally Employed Staff’ directly employed by Her Majesty’s Government, and assessed to be at serious risk of threat to life, are eligible to apply for ARAP regardless of their employment status, rank or role, or length of time served.
Through this scheme, councils across the UK have already offered support to 2000 individuals, with over 300 properties made available. People who are relocated under the scheme are supported for a 12-month period by a Local Authority offering accommodation, as well as a package of advice and assistance (employment, welfare benefits, housing, health, education) and cash support; all funded by the scheme.
Those who qualify and choose to relocate to the UK with their families are not expected to return to Afghanistan. After completing five years limited leave, they can apply for permanent residence in the UK, ensuring that they can settle here permanently and continue to build their lives.
Here in East Suffolk, we have already offered accommodation in Lowestoft and have so far welcomed three single males, as part of this scheme, to a fully furnished property in the town. Our new residents moved in on 17 August, following their statutory COVID quarantine and Anglia Care Trust (ACT) is delivering the package of support on our behalf. They have been active in this area for the last six years as part of the Suffolk Refugee Resettlement Programme and have a wealth of experience working with people and families in great need.
In addition, other registered housing providers are providing accommodation support. Newtide (Formerly Flagship) have offered three properties and other providers are assessing options. Given our good relationships with them, East Suffolk Council will of course continue to provide a link and liaise with anyone offering this accommodation to support the overall process.
As we have seen, however, the situation has worsened considerably and on August 18, the Government launched the new Afghan Citizen Resettlement scheme, a further initiative designed to welcome Afghans to the UK who have been forced to flee the country or face threats of persecution from the Taliban.
The UK government’s ambition is for the new Afghanistan citizens’ resettlement scheme to resettle 5,000 Afghan nationals who are at risk due to the current crisis, in its first year and 20,000 over the coming years. Priority will be given to women and girls, plus religious and other minorities, who are most at risk of human rights abuses and dehumanising treatment by the Taliban.
Much will depend however on the ability of individuals to receive safe passage from Afghanistan and the complex picture on the ground means there will be significant challenges delivering the scheme.
Currently the Suffolk councils are awaiting further information from the Government about the exact details of the scheme and how it will be managed. But we are ready and willing to help. And I will update Members as soon as I have any further information.
I am also very aware of the kindness being shown by the people of East Suffolk and the support of varying kinds being offered by residents and communities who, like us, want to do something to support those far less fortunate than ourselves.
At the moment, I would therefore like to direct people to two online resources with further information about this. The reality, at this stage, is that we cannot know exactly what support will be required but updates will be provided in due course at www.suffolkrefugee.org.uk and on a dedicated Suffolk County Council page which is at www.suffolk.gov.uk/howyoucanhelp.