Scores of worried families in Hillingdon have pleaded with their MP for help in rescuing relatives from Afghanistan and resettling them in the UK.
John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington (Lab) criticised the government’s plan to accept 5,000 Afghan refugees in the next year with that number increasing to 20,000 over several years.
He said: “I opposed military intervention in Afghanistan 20 years ago and spoke out in Parliament predicting then it would result in failure. Now the UK government has a responsibility to offer safety and support to Afghans under threat.
“5000 places this year is nowhere near enough. I am already dealing with over 200 local Afghan families trying to secure safety for their relatives whose lives are under threat.”
During a meeting on September 9, Hillingdon Council passed a motion in support of the Government’s Operation Warm Welcome which will assist Afghan refugees as they settle in the UK.
Leader of the Council, Ian Edwards (Con), who had previously voiced concern about refugees putting strain on council finances and local infrastructure, said that Afghan refugees would not be afforded social housing as the government would provide sufficient funding for their resettlement into private accommodation.
He said: “Our motion includes a commitment that we will not put additional pressure on the need for social housing, we recognise the position of our residents and many of their families coping with inappropriate housing, and we will not add to their burden by using social housing to assist the Afghan families the funding package provided by the government is sufficient to secure private rented accommodation.”
During the debate, Labour Councillor for Barnhill, Kerri Prince, introduced an amendment that called for additional resources from the government to help with the resettlement.
She claimed that the motion failed to recognise the “hostile environment” that the UK had become for refugees.
She said: “On this issue, it is futile to believe that we can truly ensure a warm welcome without the resources we need from the government to do so or without the policies from the government that are worthy of a welcoming Britain.”
She asked the council if they had considered the physical and mental health treatment that refugees from Afghanistan may require and highlighted the likely strain on local services.
The amendment was lost largely along party lines.
Leader Edwards said that the amendment “hijacked and distorted” the motion and that it had been “properly pushed out”.
David Simmonds, MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner and Councillor for Ickenham (Con), had previously given a statement voicing his own concerns about housing refugees.
He said: “My office has been working pretty much full-time assisting constituents and their families seeking refuge to relocate to a place of safety en route to the UK.
“Hillingdon, in particular, has a long history with supporting refugees, notably unaccompanied children, although the pressure on local accommodation from housing enormous numbers subject to Covid quarantine means there will be little capacity locally at the moment.”
He continued to say that the government’s resettlement scheme was proceeding successfully and that it was in line with a successful Syrian resettlement scheme.
David Simmonds is the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on migration and was involved in the development of the Syrian Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Scheme.
The Home Office said that it could not comment on the specifics of the resettlement operation to ensure the safety of the refugees.
Local Afghan journalist based in London, Ariana Abawe, called the situation in Afghanistan “heartbreaking”.
She said: I am grateful that the government is taking in 5,000 Afghan refugees in the first year, however, the situation in Afghanistan is getting worse and worse day by day with the Taliban takeover, I believe they can and should take more than 5,000 as there are many innocent lives at stake in the country.”
More than 100 local authorities have reportedly pledged to accept Afghan refugees since the country fell to the Taliban in a stunning takeover over the last several months.
The last US troops left Afghanistan shortly before midnight on August 30, ending NATO’s 20-year long war in the country.
With the absence of troops on the ground, the weeks-long mission to evacuate thousands of western citizens and vulnerable Afghans from Kabul airport came to an end.
British troops ended their mission on Friday, August 27 while the French evacuation ended Saturday, August 28.
Former Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Sky News that the number of British Nationals left in Afghanistan was in the “low hundreds”. Following the withdrawal, tens of western citizens were flown out of Afghanistan on a Qatar Airways charter flight, including 13 Britons.
This article appeared in print October 13 in The Hillingdon Herald