Oxfordshire County Council is working with partners across the county and central government to help resettle and support those who are fleeing the rapidly escalating situation in Afghanistan.
The council is working with the city and district councils and other partners to find accommodation and identify empty housing stock suitable for rehousing families.
Once suitable accommodation has been secured, a wraparound support package for families will be put in place, including access to healthcare and education and support with employment and community integration.
The council’s social care teams will also be ready to respond – as was the case when Syrian refugees were accepted into the UK some years ago.
Councillor Liz Leffman, the leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “As has been very well publicised, the situation in Afghanistan has become acute in recent days, and there is a clear requirement for authorities at a local, regional and national level to respond quickly.
“At Oxfordshire County Council, we will do all we can to support those in need. We already know that the people of Oxfordshire are keen to provide support as many have come forward with generous offers of help. We will work with district council colleagues and community organisations to coordinate this goodwill and generosity.
“Having previously dealt with the difficult situation that arose in Syria with refugees leaving that country for the UK, we have considerable experience of dealing with such situations. We are ready and willing to respond, together with colleagues in local government up and down the land.”
As Afghanistan is rocked by the rapid take-over of the Taliban, Oxford City Council has sent a message of support to Oxford’s Afghan community.
Councillor Shaista Aziz, Cabinet Member for Inclusive Communities at Oxford City Council, said: “I know from speaking to members of Oxford’s Afghan community, especially women, this weekend, there is a great deal of anxiety and worry about the safety and wellbeing of family and friends in Afghanistan. Like the rest of my council colleagues, I stand in solidarity with you and your loved ones.
“Oxford is a proud City of Sanctuary, a multi-racial and diverse city, an international city, and a city that is home to an established Afghan community who are part of Oxford’s wider community too. Our collective thoughts are with you.
“Oxford City Council reiterates its commitment to supporting the diverse communities of our city, including refugee and migrant communities. We call on the UK government to do everything in its power to protect the rights of all Afghan people and especially the rights of Afghan women, girls and minorities. We call on the government to uphold and protect the rights of refugees and all those fleeing persecution.”
Cherwell District Council is already focusing on sourcing accommodation and identifying empty housing stock suitable for rehousing families and is in discussions with the Ministry of Defence about the possibility of repurposing some of its property for this purpose.
Councillor Barry Wood, the leader of Cherwell District Council, said: “We are keen and eager for north Oxfordshire to be part of the national effort to help support the refugees from Afghanistan, and we are working with central government and partners across the county to do everything possible.
“Once suitable accommodation has been secured, we will work with partners to put in place a wraparound support package for families, which encompasses access to healthcare and education and support with employment and community integration.
“The rapidly escalating situation in Afghanistan requires us to work at pace. However, at the same time, we want to ensure that our decisions and actions are taken in an organised and measured way so that the resettlement support we provide is both considered and robust.
“The residents of north Oxfordshire are generous and hospitable, and it has come as no surprise to us that local people are already making offers of assistance and organisations are ready and willing to help.
“Like many councils, we have strong previous experience in this area, having supported Syrian refugees who sadly had to leave their home country. We will be drawing on that experience as we prepare to welcome people who have had to leave their homes because of what is happening in Afghanistan.”
South Oxfordshire has previously supported two Syrian families to resettle in the area and is also participating in the UK resettlement scheme is putting further plans in place to offer support to those from Afghanistan who are now granted refugee status. The council has agreed to resettle at least one family from Afghanistan under the UK’s existing Afghan Locally Employed Staff (ALES) Resettlement Scheme.
Councillor Sue Cooper, Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “Many people in Afghanistan are now facing a truly awful situation and we in the UK have a moral duty to offer as much support as possible to those who feel they are no longer safe there.
“As a district, we have previously supported people in similar situations, and we will do our best to work with our partners across the South Oxfordshire community and beyond to offer what help we can to people from Afghanistan who are granted refugee status.
“However, we can only provide support where funding has been made available by the government, and this applies across all stages of the resettlement process, from health and wellbeing support, to housing, food, and education. It is vital that we act now, so I urge the government to make funding available as soon as possible so that councils and service providers across the country can put their support plans into action as quickly as possible.”
“People in South Oxfordshire will be well aware that we are short of affordable housing to meet the needs of our residents. To meet this need and to ensure we can support refugees, the government must provide the additional resources required to make affordable housing more widely available in our district.”
Councillor Emily Smith, Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, has said that the district council is ready to help refugees who will be arriving in the UK from Afghanistan, but has called on the government to act quickly and to do more to support this process by ensuring that the necessary resources are made immediately available.
The councillor said: “The situation in Afghanistan is truly awful with thousands of lives now at significant risk from the new regime. There is a terrifying uncertainty about the freedom and safety of minority communities, women and girls.
“As a council and a district, we will work with local partners to put plans in place to support those from Afghanistan who are granted refugee status in the UK. The government has announced that it will support up to 20,000 people from Afghanistan, but only 5,000 immediately, which to me, seems a very low number given the life and death situation the people of Afghanistan find themselves in.
“Our council and other local organisations have the skills and desire to support in any way we can but call on the government to provide the funding required to get this scheme established as a matter of urgency. The resettlement process requires significant resources across a range of public service providers to ensure that refugees are resettled safely and can integrate successfully into their new communities.
“This support is not just about providing immediate and appropriate shelter, which we aim to provide through offers of private accommodation. Mental health support, education, food, medicine, and the other resources will be necessary to help people integrate into the local community. Councils and charities are facing significant financial challenges, but we have a moral obligation to play our part in ensuring the safety of people fleeing Afghanistan.”