West Sussex councillors call for ‘more ambitious commitment’ to resettle Afghan refugees

Following the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and its seizure of the capital Kabul, councillors across West Sussex have called on local authorities and the Government to play its part in resettling refugees.

Adur and Worthing Council leaders have already announced their commitment to relocate British nationals, Afghan interpreters and embassy staff through the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme which began in April.

ARAP is separate to the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme which will see the Government taking on 20,000 refugees over five years.

Despite the deteriorating situation in the country, the scheme has not opened yet and 5,000 refugees will be accepted in the first year.

Neil Parkin, Adur District Council leader, and Dan Humphreys, leader of Worthing Borough Council, have now said they will help to accommodate refugees fleeing Afghanistan.

Horsham District Council leader Paul Clarke (Con, Pulborough, Coldwaltham and Amberley) said the authority will assist refugees and Chichester District Council said it would also work with the Home Office.

Mr Clarke said: “The images emerging from Afghanistan at the moment are tragic, and we, as a council, are committed to doing everything within our power and resources we have available to provide refugees with a home, and support for them to resettle within their new communities.”

Although the Government has committed to take in 20,000 Afghan refugees and provide funding to local authorities for services such as education and healthcare, Labour and Lib Dem councillors have asked for more.

Beccy Cooper (Lab, Marine) said: “As well as local voluntary groups and collections that are doing an amazing job, the county, borough and district councils are working with the UK Government to welcome and resettle refugees as they arrive into the country.

But she added: “To be honest, the numbers of refugee families that we are resettling look very low to me (eight families in Adur and Worthing since February), so I have asked for further clarity on how we have arrived at that offer and whether the increasing need from Afghanistan will now mean that number substantively increases.”

Home Office data shows that 26 people were placed in Worthing under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme between 2018 and 2019 which helped refugees fleeing Syria.

Adrian Moss (Lib Dem, Harbour Villages) said: “Here in Chichester I believe we have a moral obligation to support those who are fleeing from persecution and worse.

“We need to open our hearts to these people in their hours of need. We must welcome them and embrace them.”

Mr Moss joined other Lib Dem councillors who are calling on the Government to ‘make a more ambitious commmitment’ to Afghan refugees.

West Sussex County Council’s Liberal Democrat group leader Kirsty Lord (Hassocks and Burgess Hill South) said: “West Sussex has a proud record of providing sanctuary to those in need… and I know local people will welcome those escaping the Taliban now too.

“The Government must live up to its obligations by giving West Sussex County Council and our district and borough councils extra funding so we can house, support and integrate these refugees properly.”

WSCC said it has resettled two families since April and will commit to resettling more over the next two years.

A spokesperson said: “WSCC, in conjunction with our district and borough partners, have been actively engaged with the pre-existing Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP).

“Families have already been resettled in West Sussex under the ARAP scheme, with more due to arrive shortly.

“We will continue to work closely with all our partners to support those families already within the county during this difficult time and are ready to respond to any widening in scope for the existing refugee resettlement programme as this rapidly evolving situation unfolds.”

Around 200 people, or 48 families, were placed in West Sussex through the existing Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS).

Home Office data shows that 63 people were resettled in the South East under the VPRS in the first quarter of 2021.