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Surrey ‘Stands Ready to Support Afghan Resettlement’ But Few Councils Commit to Numbers

Published on: 21 Aug, 2021
Updated on: 24 Aug, 2021

Afghan refugees. Image BBC

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

More Surrey councils have said they ‘stand ready to support Afghan resettlement’ but few are committing to actual numbers.

Reigate and Banstead and Runnymede have each pledged to help three families build new lives in the UK, in addition to the total of eight families that Surrey Heath and Elmbridge have promised to accommodate.

Now that Afghanistan has fallen to the Taliban, people are fleeing the country fearful of retaliation after they helped British forces through, for example, interpreting.

Runnymede Borough Council leader Nick Prescot (Con, Englefield Green West) said: “People in Afghanistan are going through an unprecedented period of stress and fear for their lives.”

Guildford Borough Council said it hopes to welcome Afghan families into its communities by the autumn, though it “ is impossible to commit to a precise number until we know how many are coming, the funding support available and also the number of available homes we have in the borough”.

Cllr Julia McShane

Councillor Julia McShane (LD, Westborough), lead councillor for community, said: “Whatever happens we will be creating safe spaces for refugees in Guildford.”

Spelthorne Borough Council also said it stands ready to support the resettlement scheme but again has not committed to any particular number.

Council leader Lawrence Nichols (LD, Halliford and Sunbury West) said: “We are witnessing a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding before our eyes in Afghanistan, and we have a moral obligation to help. The lives of these people are threatened, and they are in dire need of urgent assistance.

“Spelthorne Council is committed to doing our fair share to help. This country owes a great debt to those who worked with and supported our troops over the last two decades, so it is only right that we help them.”

District and borough councils, who are responsible for housing in Surrey, are reviewing their housing stocks as well as appealing to private landlords to help.

Meanwhile, the county council is “exploring opportunities to pledge county council-owned accommodation”.

Cllr Tim Oliver

Leader Tim Oliver said they are in contact with the government and the South East Strategic Partnership for Migration. He said: “Surrey is a welcoming county and we will do all we can to help.”

Questions have been asked about whether Surrey is taking its fair share.

The government’s scheme allows for 20,000 Afghan nationals to set up home in the UK permanently, with 5,000 in the first year. Women, girls and religious minorities will be prioritised.

An even spread across the 382 UK councils responsible for housing would mean Surrey accepting 144 people, or about 48 families.

Currently four councils have committed to a total of 42 people (14 families) between them, while Woking, Guildford and Spelthorne have not specified a number and Waverley and Tandridge are “exploring options”.

Epsom and Ewell and Mole Valley councils were also asked if they would help but did not yet respond.

Councillor Robert Evans (Stanwell and Stanwell Moor), Labour group leader on Surrey County Council, said: “We can do better.

“As a comparatively rich county, we should be doing our bit. Every borough has got to play their part, that is the very least we can do.

“I know it’s a challenge and there’s pressure on housing for local families but these are exceptional circumstances; it’s difficult for us to appreciate the desperation these people are feeling.

“Councils should be able to provide accommodation for our people and have a humanitarian approach, these are not mutually exclusive.”

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