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Updated: GBC ‘Already Working with the Defence Ministry to House Afghan Refugees’

Published on: 18 Aug, 2021
Updated on: 19 Aug, 2021

By Martin Giles

Guildford Council is stood by to play its part in housing a share of Afghan refugees. The UK has said it will take 20,000 refugees who are escaping their home country following the sudden capitulation by the Afghan government following America’s withdrawal of military forces.

Updated with a response from Labour councillor James Walsh, see below.

Cllr Julia McShane

Julia McShane the lead councillor for Community said she was “heartbroken” by the events in Afghanistan and from “hearing the stories of people, and especially many women, who have already felt that they have needed to take radical action to protect themselves and loved ones. We are committed to do the best we can to help these communities and families in need.”

Earlier, before the GBC statement emerged,  the leader of Millmead’s Conservative group Paul Spooner broke his own declared ex-communication with The Dragon to criticise GBC, saying in a reader’s comment: “Guildford’s steady slide from leading in Surrey continues. Where is the forward planning?”

Cllr Paul Spooner

But describing the council’s preparedness Cllr McShane (Lib Dem, Westborough) said:  “We are already working with the Ministry of Defence to house refugees, separately with local community groups, and finally we are waiting to be allocated a number from the government of how many refugee families we will be asked to house. Whatever happens, we will be creating safe spaces for refugees in Guildford.

“In July 2021 we agreed an approved delegation scheme to find safe homes for any refugees fleeing violence in their homeland. Most recently we supported a family from Syria as part of the Resettle@Guildford scheme. The initiative, although facilitated by us together with Surrey County Council, is part of the government’s Community Sponsorship programme.

“We support local community groups to take responsibility to welcome, house and support refugee families directly into their local community. We believe that the programme provides the best way to welcome refugees into Guildford, give them a safe, welcoming space to build their lives and contribute, and enhance our thriving and vibrant local community.

“Before the Taliban takeover, we had already begun working with the Home Office under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) as part of our ongoing local authority resettlement work. This initiative was designed to support refugee families to settle in the UK with support being offered for five years. We have since begun working with the Ministry Of Defence and the Home Office to relocate Afghan families into our borough and we hope to welcome them into our communities by the autumn.”

Angela Richardson speaking in the House of Commons in November.

Guildford’s MP Angela Richardson said she was pleased that Guildford had now “clarified its position”. She said she had written on Tuesday (17 August) to leaders of both Guildford and Waverley councils about their involvement in the Afghan Resettlement Scheme following the events in Afghanistan.

“The government takes the scheme seriously and advanced new and improved support measures last month amounting to support for councils of more than £40,000 for a four-person family in the first year. Several nearby councils, including Woking, Surrey Heath and Elmbridge had found the scheme acceptable to work with.

“I am glad that Guildford has now clarified its involvement and is working with the government to re-house Afghan families during the autumn. I reiterate my request to Waverley to clarify its position too.”

The chair of the Guildford Conservatives echoed Ms Richardson’s welcome to the GBC statement. Sallie Barker said: “We are glad GBC has agreed to work with the Government to rehouse and support the Afghan refugees at this dreadful time.

Mark Bray-Parry of the Green Party

Mark Bray-Parry of The Green Party was also pleased to hear of the GBC statement but widened his response to other aspects of the UK’s immigration policy. He said: “I am pleased to read Cllr McShane’s statement and the work Guildford Borough Council are doing towards housing refugees.

After 20 years of fighting, I am shocked at the callousness of the western withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan but pleased that the UK Government has recognised its obligations towards those Afghanistan citizens that have worked with the UK in both a civil and military capacity.

“It is essential that the government supports local authorities in order to house refugees, not just from Afghanistan but all who seek protection from violence in their homeland. I hope this surprise show of compassion from the government after a decade of increasingly hostile refugee and immigration policies will mark a moment of reflection, and that Angela Richardson works with Guildford and Waverley Borough Councils to secure Government support for a more ambitious refugee housing scheme.”

Cllr McShane also reminded community groups how they could contribute: “Local community groups can still apply to also be part of the Community Sponsorship programme and we will work with all to offer help to refugees.

“As part of being a ‘community sponsor’, local groups will find a property available for families for two years, provide settlement support for one year, welcome the household at the airport and provide cultural support and access to medical, social, welfare and education services and English tuition and offer support towards volunteering, employment, self-sufficiency, independence and safeguarding support.

“If you’d like to find out more please contact the resettlement scheme for the South East via sespm@secouncils.gov.uk.

“They have also published the following guidance here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/964199/2018-12-04_Community_Sponsorship_Guidance.pdf

Cllr James Walsh

Labour’s borough councillor James Walsh (Stoke) said: “I wrote to the leader of the council, officers and fellow councillors about this issue on Tuesday night and was the first to call on the Executive to work with partners to help support and house refugees from Afghanistan.

“I also made the point that Guildford has strong links with the military and that the way Afghan allies have been treated as a result of government incompetence and intransigence has been appalling –  we in the UK have a moral duty to help them and their families in any way we can.
“The leader responded positively to my email yesterday and said that the council will offer to help refugees. This also appears to have cross-party support, which is really pleasing on such an important issue.
“The Labour Group welcomes and supports the measures detailed by the lead member [Julia McShane] but has serious concerns about central government’s ability and willingness to fund and support local authorities that take on this important work.

“We must now all work together to make sure that the refugees are housed safely, near to each other and are able to access all of the support and services they will need.

“The government has dragged its heels on this – there’s no reason Guildford Borough Council should do the same, especially as we all appear to be in agreement.”

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test 8 Responses to Updated: GBC ‘Already Working with the Defence Ministry to House Afghan Refugees’

  1. Roy Fiander Reply

    August 19, 2021 at 6:39 am

    What is it about our local councillors that they can’t see what is in front of their noses? They cannot even look after the well-being of our own nation’s problems and they embark on helping others from other countries. They and our MPs are so short-sighted. They should think about the British people first, not the foreigners.

    • Ben Paton Reply

      August 19, 2021 at 12:34 pm

      Spot on.

      Local Councillors are elected to serve local people and address local issues.

      They should not use their positions to grandstand on international issues that are not their problem.

      Some councillors seem to think that a country 4,500 miles away is theirs and that they should engage in some sort of “auction” to see who can promise to spend more of “other people’s money” to sort it out.

  2. M Durant Reply

    August 19, 2021 at 12:28 pm

    Yes, the refugees (especially the women) should be helped. They are in a dreadful situation caused by our governments, but to resettle the refugees all expenses paid in the highly populated and expensive South East of England is really sending the wrong message to British citizens who are homeless in the county (including former servicemen) and to British citizens who have not been able to get on the housing ladder for years and are from the area.

    The refugees should be housed in underpopulated, affordable areas not in one the most expensive to live in boroughs in the country. And how is the government going to be sure that the people coming from Afghanistan are not actually Taliban terrorists disguised as families?

    I would like to add there are a lot of British citizens out of work at the moment thanks to all the lockdowns. Several business have shut down, and there aren’t as many jobs out there. We have not seen the full effect of the pandemic yet in financial terms.

    • J Taylor Reply

      August 19, 2021 at 9:09 pm

      Some of these refugees have assisted British armed forces whilst they operated in Afghanistan; these people and their families are faced with the choice of staying and being hunted down by the Taliban or getting out.

      The UK has an obligation to ensure these people are safe. If we just left them to their fate, when we are able do something, that would be one of the biggest failures and betrayals of the British government in recent history.

      Not everyone in the UK has it easy, but at least no one lives in fear of being tortured and killed.

      Of the 20,000 Afghan refugees coming to the UK, if all 181 lower tier local authorities (borough and district councils), in England alone, settled their fair share that would equate to 110 refugees per council. In Guildford’s case that is less than 0.1 per cent of the population.

      • M Durant Reply

        August 21, 2021 at 10:13 pm

        In 2020 there were 1,962 people waiting to be housed in Guildford (latest figures from Guildford Borough Council website), the average wait for a flat or a house with the council is between 2 years and 8 months to 5 years and 10 months.

        All I am saying is that the refugees should be housed in an area where there isn’t such a high number of people already waiting on the council housing list for a home.

  3. Susan Fox Reply

    August 19, 2021 at 3:21 pm

    I can’t believe the lack of generosity from the previous correspondents.
    Surely one of richest boroughs/counties in England should help out with people fleeing for their lives from the Taliban – didn’t they see people clinging on to a plane trying to take off.
    Many of these men and women risked their lives to help our army. Would any woman want to deny another woman the chance to bring up their kids in peace and wear the clothes they choose and get the education and employment we have as a right not at the behest of barbarians.

  4. Stuart Taylor Reply

    August 20, 2021 at 5:20 pm

    I agree with Susan Fox but am not at all surprised by the Nimbyism of some Guildfordians, whom I hope never have to rely on charity in hard times.

  5. Brian Creese Reply

    August 20, 2021 at 5:57 pm

    I was deeply disappointed to read some of the comments above. As someone who always felt the military action in Afghanistan was ill-advised and unlikely to end well, I nonetheless recognise that a grown-up state has to deliver on its promises and commitments.

    We owe it to all the people who have worked to support our armed services over the past 20 years not to simply leave them to the mercies of the Taliban. We should be doing everything we can to get everyone out as soon as possible.

    While the 20,000 figures seems arbitrary – and too low – it translates to fewer than 100 refugees per UK local authority. This does not seem a vast price for us all to pay for the country living up to its responsibilities. What is more, the overwhelming majority of these refugees are highly skilled and likely to simply enhance and enrich our community.

    Brian Creese is the chair of the Guildford Labour Party

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