I welcome the funding announcement for councils from the Minister for Afghan Resettlement Victoria Atkins, and am hopeful that other local authorities will step up to support people from Afghanistan.
However, there is a huge mismatch between the rhetoric of senior government politicians and their actions to support vulnerable people. The start of Operation Warm Welcome in the summer was one of the most shocking failures of government that I have ever encountered. The lack of organised support from the Home Office for the 700 Afghan refugees who quarantined in our borough back in August and September was, frankly, unforgivable.
Despite government promises of support packages, it was the council who bought nappies, formula and food when none was provided. It was the council and local NHS partners who ran GP clinics for traumatised refugees. It was local volunteers who provided translation services, and Royal Greenwich residents who donated clothes and shoes. It was our own staff who stayed with unaccompanied minors in the hotel while we waited and waited for support which never came. We are still yet to receive any of the promised funds to cover those costs from the end of the summer.
What is even worse, however, is the impact that government inaction is having on evacuees from Afghanistan – many of whom still don’t know their immigration status, what resettlement scheme they qualify for and whether they are eligible for family reunification. And, once again, local authorities and charities are bearing the brunt of the responsibility.
In our borough, we have rehoused four families and have committed to rehousing a further four (approximately 50 people), under the London allocation scheme. Royal Greenwich has a proud history of supporting refugees, and we are proud to continue that support for people from Afghanistan.
I can’t imagine what it feels like to flee your home, leaving behind your whole life for an uncertain future. The least we can do is make sure that people from Afghanistan feel supported and welcomed here in the UK. Everyone deserves to have a safe, secure home – no matter where they are from.
Councillor Danny Thorpe, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich