The increased level of support to assist stricken refugees who have been airlifted out of Kabul comes as a cabinet minister praised the authority for being ‘one of the earliest’ councils to offer support.
The authority was one of 100 of the UK’s 300 local councils to offer immediate assistance to Afghan refugees as the crisis in Kabul broke last month, and immediately pledged to rehome five families.
It now wants to rehome ten.
As of last week, just a third of local councils have signed up to the Government’s Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy [ARAP].
Robert Jenrick, MP, Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government, was in Tunbridge Wells on Wednesday September 1 as part of a tour of constituency regeneration projects.
His visit came just as TWBC vowed to try to double its initial pledge of rehoming five families, and coincided with his department’s announcement that the Government had earmarked an £8.6billion funding package for affordable homes.
Speaking to the Times about the plight of the Afghan refugees following the evacuation from Kabul, Mr Jenrick, said: “We’re very grateful to Tunbridge Wells Council for participating in our Afghanistan Resettlement Scheme.
“The Council was one of the earliest to participate and take part by rehoming interpreters and their families, and now they have pledged to take at least five more Afghan families.
“It is important we are helping those people that stood shoulder to shoulder with our troops in Helmand and elsewhere, and it is right we support them now.
“We will be providing all the support places like Tunbridge Wells need to welcome and rehouse these people as quickly as possible.”
He added that the Government has set up a portal on its website to allow people to submit offers of support for people arriving from Afghanistan, including clothing and toys, as well as offers of housing and work.
He continued: “The challenge is not only the sheer number of people needing help in a short time, but these are people that typically have larger families, so we are in need of three and four-bedroom houses, which in Tunbridge Wells I know are in short supply.”
A spokesperson for the Council said: “We have made a commitment to finding homes for five families, and we have also said we’ll do our best to help a further five if at all possible.
“As well as this support for Afghan families, we are also fulfilling our ongoing commitment to refugees from other parts of the world and will be helping two other refugee families this year.”
As we went to press, the UK had evacuated 17,000 people from Afghanistan since the beginning of April.
Of those, 15,000 were taken out between August 15 and the end of the month. The Home Office said 8,000 of those were ARAP claimants.
Landlords who would like to help with accommodation should contact the Council’s Housing Team on 01892 526121.
A PERSONAL VIEW…
Councillor recalls his tour of Afghanistan
A Tunbridge Wells Borough Councillor and former Army Major has reflected on his time in Afghanistan and the challenges facing the refugees as they flee the Taliban.
Speaking to the Times, Cllr James Rands [Culverden, Lib Dem] looked back to his time in the war-torn region and the events of the last few weeks.
He said: “My first tour in Afghanistan was as the Adjutant in a UK training team working with the Afghan National Army’s [ANA] officer training school.
“In that capacity I mentored an ANA Colonel. And he told me how he had had special forces training in both Moscow and the United States.
“His story tells us a lot about Afghanistan. He had fought for the Soviet-backed regime in the 80s and was pretty highly regarded, but when the tide was changing he switched sides. And he thrived.
“In Afghanistan, looking after your family and tribe is the highest ethical purpose. And people respect others for doing so.”
He added that he still has friends and acquaintances in the region.
“I hope my old friends do what they need to keep themselves and their families safe,” he said, adding that he believes the Taliban still remains a threat.
“They are fanatics. The Taliban has changed over the last 20 years, but not nearly enough for them to be an acceptable government for anywhere.”
For those Afghans fleeing their home country, Cllr Rands say they face challenges of adapting to places such as Tunbridge Wells that are as alien to them as Kabul is to the residents of Kent.
“We have a duty to those Afghans who helped us and escaped. We must welcome them and give them practical assistance.
“There are charities out there who will help them, but for those who can, donating time is more important.
“They are coming from a different world. Expect them to be surprised that you need a licence, tax and insurance to drive a car, for example.”
REFUGEE GROUP BEGINS FUNDRAISING DRIVE
A community group set up to help refugees has launched an online fundraiser to help Afghanistan families coming to Tunbridge Wells.
Hazel Beevers, Trustee of Tunbridge Wells Welcomes Refugees, told the Times: “We are fundraising rather than doing a clothes or items donation drive, as at this stage we aren’t sure what the Afghan families arriving in Tunbridge Wells will need.
“But when the time arrives, we will work with local organisations, the council and charities to ensure the families have everything they need to settle in the area, much like we did – and still do – with the Syrian families.
“Our remit is to support and welcome refugees arriving in Tunbridge Wells, so our volunteers also support via mentoring, tutoring, fundraising, practical support and community events.”
She added that if anyone wants to volunteer they can email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or donations can be sent via this Just Giving link: help-afghan-families-tunbridge-wells