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Oxfordshire’s councils reiterate support for housing families fleeing Afghanistan

Oxfordshire councils reiterate support for housing families fleeing Afghanistan

Afghan resettlement

Oxfordshire councils have reiterated their support for housing families fleeing Afghanistan.

Finding homes for the Afghan refugees who have been evacuated from their country is a national priority. These families are now in the UK, living in temporary hotel accommodation and unable to start their new lives until they have a stable home.

The government has recently increased its funding for the Afghan Resettlement and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme, which supports those who worked with UK forces and the UK government in Afghanistan. An extra £5 million of funding was added last month to cover housing costs, and this has enabled Oxford City Council to look again at participating in the scheme.

The government has not yet announced details and funding for the Afghan Resettlement Programme for other Afghan refugees, many of who are now in the UK.

Cherwell District Council

Cherwell District Council has agreed to provide 10 homes for people from Afghanistan to be occupied in the coming weeks. Local agencies will be providing a wraparound package of care for new arrivals with experts from social care and education to the fore.

A meeting of the council’s Executive on Monday 06 September heard that the government will provide funding to help the new arrivals with accommodation and support as part of its Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP).

Cherwell District Council is working with local specialist agencies to develop a support package for the families, including education and health. These families have individuals that have worked for the UK and risked their lives alongside British forces in Afghanistan over several years.

Thanks to the council’s work on the Syrian and Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programmes, which have supported 14 families into accommodation in the private rented sector, strong relationships are already in place to make this a reality.

The local package of support that will be offered will include language skills, access to healthcare and education, voluntary sector support and advice, and support preparing to enter the job market.

The properties identified are not within social housing stock, and the tenancies will last for a year. In advance of their expiry, the council will work to find the families more permanent homes in the private sector.

Councillor Barry Wood, Leader of Cherwell District Council, added: “The government has put this policy in place to help Afghan nationals who have proven over a number of years that they are true friends of the British people, risking their lives in service of the UK Armed Forces. I am pleased that Cherwell will be playing its part in helping secure their futures and giving them a warm welcome.

“As our plans develop, we will be drawing on our experience of resettling and supporting Syrian families in the private sector. We have a strong network of local partners to assist in the vital work of helping them rebuild their lives and integrating into their local communities.

“I want to be very clear that this is a distinct and separately funded area of work, which we are rightly proud to be undertaking. Our existing responsibility to help local people applying for social housing and helping anyone sleeping rough in the district will, of course, be continuing as it always has.

“It has to be remembered that these families will have been through a traumatic experience and we need to give them space and privacy over a prolonged period to adjust to their new lives and surroundings. As such we will not reveal any specific locations.”

West Oxfordshire District Council

Statements from the Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Communities and Housing at West Oxfordshire District Council also highlight efforts by West Oxfordshire District Council to support Afghan refugees.

Councillor Michele Mead, Leader of West Oxfordshire District Council, said: “The recent events in Afghanistan, and the suffering experienced by people fleeing the country under threat of violence, make us feel thankful we live in a free, democratic society.

“At West Oxfordshire District Council, we are committed to playing our part to support those fleeing persecution, especially when many of those Afghan families currently entering the country have supported our military over recent years. We have been working closely with partners for months to prepare for the current refugees entering the country.

Councillor Merilyn Davies, Cabinet Member for Communities and Housing at West Oxfordshire District Council, said: “We are currently working hard to identify our share of homes in the district which will work both for the families coming into our area and our local communities.

“The Syrian refugee programme over recent years showed how supportive and welcoming our communities are with many local groups set up to help the families looking to start a new life.

“To help our current effort we are looking for private landlords to come forward with 3-4 bed homes in the local area we could use. If you think you have a house that could be used visit our website for more information at www.westoxon.gov.uk/refugeesupport

Oxford City Council

Oxford City Council is also pledging to support Afghan refugees to build new lives in the city and has been working hard to find suitable homes and is calling for more landlords to come forward.

There has been huge support from people in Oxford to help those who have fled Afghanistan, and the council is determined to play its part on behalf of the city. But it takes more than just the council’s commitment – landlords, businesses and communities are also needed to work as partners with the council and refugee organisations.

With a critical shortage of social housing in the city and over 2,000 families on the council house waiting list, the city cannot offer council housing to resettle refugees.

The council aims to use funding from the Government’s Afghan Resettlement and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme to find homes for Afghan refugee families in the private rented sector, similar to the successful work to support Syrian families under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme.

A call out to landlords

The city council is currently working with landlords to identify properties that could be rented under the ARAP scheme and is asking for more landlords to consider letting property to them for refugee families. The housing needed is likely to be larger, family homes.

The council is initially looking for up to ten family homes that can be rented at or near the Local Housing Allowance.

The funding provides security for a 12-month contract, and families will receive additional support from local authorities and partners to establish their lives in the UK. Oxford City Council has joined other local authorities in lobbying for the government to extend the duration of this scheme.

Experienced council staff will support landlords and tenants through the resettlement process and provide ongoing support for the tenancy. To find out more information or offer property, please email refugeehousing@oxford.gov.uk

Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council, said: “Thousands of Afghan refugees have been airlifted to safety in the UK, and we now have the urgent task of providing them the chance to start their new lives. But as everyone who lives in Oxford knows, this is an expensive city to rent or buy, which can exclude many people with connections here as well as new arrivals. That’s why it’s so important that the government funds these resettlement schemes properly, so that we can continue to support both current and new residents in our city.

“We’re asking landlords to get in touch if they think their property could provide a home for an Afghan family. There is no commitment, we will work with you to see if we can agree a suitable arrangement. But there are many benefits – not just a guaranteed tenancy, but the chance to offer something truly life changing, to get to know a new community and culture, and to support the first steps a family will take on the path to becoming part of Oxford.”

Councillor Shaista Aziz, Cabinet Member for Inclusive Communities, added: “We want to offer sanctuary to those most in need, and with the support of our communities and businesses many have been able to build successful lives here. There have already been overwhelming offers of support for Afghans from residents here, and I want to thank all those who have come forward. Although we’re yet to welcome any newly arrived families, when the time comes I know that Oxford’s communities will be ready to support them.”

Resettling refugees

Oxford City Council has already resettled 30 families, predominantly from Syria and Iraq, through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. Eight more families are expected to be supported by March 2022 through its replacement - the UK Resettlement Scheme.

The council has experience in successfully settling refugees and helping them establish new lives in Oxford. This would not be possible without the support of partners across the county, including:

  • the county council, which provides adult and children’s services and education
  • refugee charities, including Asylum Welcome and Refugee Refugee Resource, who provide advice, connections and support services, including mental health support
  • businesses who provide mentoring, skills development and assistance into employment
  • the universities, who have provided education skills support
  • community groups who provide local advice, social connections and support for families

Donations

People in Oxfordshire may soon be able to donate very specific items to support refugees from Afghanistan via an Amazon wishlist. The County Council says it has been inundated with donations and thanked the people of Oxfordshire for their generosity so far.

Currently, the authority does not need further donations, but this may change in the future when very specific items may be needed as families gradually adapt to their new surroundings. Those wanting to donate items can still donate to a number of national appeals,

People can still make donations through several national appeals, including the British Red Cross and Asylum Welcome. Further information about the Asylum Welcome appeal can also be found here.

Councillor Liz Leffman, the leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “As we’ve said before the people of Oxfordshire have been incredibly generous in their response and many of the items they donated during August have been put to good use with the people who have arrived in our county.

“We are now at a stage where we don't need further donations of items. However there may be occasions in future when we need very specific items to meet specific needs as families go through the very gradual process of adapting to their new surroundings away from their home country. We thought an Amazon wishlist would be an ideal way to get a message through to our kind-hearted residents if and when we need specific items quickly.

“As we’ve said before we are very limited in the extent to which we can give a commentary on the process we are going through with the refugees because we don't want to reveal the locations at which they are being homed. They have been through a traumatic experience and they are now in an entirely new country. They will need to adjust and we need to give them the time, space and peace to do so.

“As councils we have the same safeguarding responsibilities to these new residents that we have to people who are in the care of our adult and children’s social care teams. However in delivering that care to the refugees there may be moments when the wider public can provide real assistance - and that's where the wishlist will come in very useful.”

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