Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 25 October.
“The Government worked at pace to facilitate the largest and most complex evacuation in living memory, assisting the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to help more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan to safety in the United Kingdom. A huge programme of work is now under way across government to ensure Afghans brought to the United Kingdom receive a warm welcome and the vital support they need to build bright futures in our country. That work spans across government, charities, other organisations, local authorities and communities. The aim is to give Afghans arriving here the best possible start to life in the United Kingdom, while also making sure that local services can work effectively to support people.
On 13 September, I made a Statement, and the Home Office published a comprehensive policy statement, confirming that the Government have committed to take around 5,000 people in the first year and a total of up to 20,000 people over the coming years under the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. The Statement also set out who would be eligible and who would be prioritised, and how we will work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other organisations to ensure the ACRS provides a safe route for vulnerable people at risk. While we appreciate the need to act quickly, it is also important that we do this properly and ensure that any scheme meets the needs of those it is being set up to support.
Our work to support Afghan citizens has not paused while the resettlement scheme is being developed. The Home Office is continuing to work with partners across government, including in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, given that many of those requiring support are in fact British nationals, to provide permanent housing for the thousands already relocated here. Some of the people evacuated will form the first part of the 5,000 people being resettled.
I am pleased to tell the House that over 200 councils have agreed to house those who have been evacuated. I am extremely grateful for that and, as always, I continue to encourage councils that have not felt able to make offers or those that can perhaps offer more places of housing to do so. This is a national effort. We are all determined to give Afghan people a warm welcomein this country, and I look forward to working with colleagues across the House to achieve this.”
The Government had 18 months to prepare for withdrawal but clearly did not. It is over two months since the Afghan citizens settlement scheme was announced but it has still not been opened, yet the lives of those left behind in Afghanistan are at stake.
The Government’s Statement says that some of the people already evacuated will form the first part of the 5,000 people being resettled under the resettlement scheme. How many of the 5,000 places in the first year have in reality already been filled by people already in this country? What is the exact financial package that councils housing those evacuated will definitely receive, and when?
Finally, the Commons Minister said that approximately 11,000 people were still in bridging hotels and agreed that actions to target them by far-right extremists were unlawful and illegal. How many arrests have been made of those targeting Afghan refugees in bridging hotels?
My Lords, it is fair to say that the Government worked at pace. In particular, there were officials in the Home Office who worked almost day and night to facilitate the largest and most complex evacuation in living memory. They were assisting the Ministry of Defence and the FCDO to help more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan to safety in the UK.
Currently, a huge programme of work is under way across government to ensure that Afghans brought to the United Kingdom receive a warm welcome and the vital support that they need to build brighter futures in our country. That work spans across government, charities, other organisations, local authorities—as the noble Lord pointed out—and communities. The aim is to give Afghans arriving here the best possible start to life in the UK while making sure, as the noble Lord said, that local services can work effectively to support people.
On the local authority effort, we have had over 200 pledges from local authorities and have housed over 1,700 individuals. I can clarify that that is under ARAP.
On local authority funding, councils that support people through the ACRS, the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, or the Afghan relocations and assistance policy, or ARAP, will receive £20,520 per person over three years for resettlement and integration costs. Local councils and health partners that resettle families will also receive up to £4,500 per child for education, £850 to cover English language provision for adults requiring this support, and £2,600 to cover healthcare. A further £20 million-worth of flexible funding will be made available to support local authorities that have higher cost bases with any additional costs in the provision of services. In addition, the previously announced Afghan housing costs fund will increase from £5 million to £17 million and will run for two extra years to help local authorities to provide housing and to give certainty that funding will be available in future.
The funding and support will be modelled on the VPRS, or vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, which resettled over 20,000 refugees who fled conflict in Syria over a seven-year period from 2014 to this year.
My Lords, there is absolutely no doubt that we owe Afghan interpreters and their families a great debt. Can the Minister estimate how many Afghan interpreters in the UK are still without permanent accommodation, and do we have any intelligence as to the numbers of interpreters still remaining in Afghanistan who are hoping to come to the UK?
As I said, 1,700 individuals, mostly from Operation Pitting, have moved into permanent local authority housing. Two hundred local authorities have pledged to support families, with a further 6,000 places in accommodation pledged. We are also seeing people matched with jobs, with over 200 of the cohort having been offered employment. The other thing I am keen to see, because it is very helpful in promoting integration, is community sponsorship; 120 community sponsorship schemes are already in place, and I would like to see that expanded.
On the specific question of interpreters placed, I will not give the noble Baroness a figure today because I do not have it—or, if I have it, I cannot see it in my notes. However, I will get her that exact figure.
Some contractors are eligible, and many have indeed come under ARAP. We are in the process of updating ARAP guidance now that the evacuation effort is over. Under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, which is now the ACRS, without going into the detail of each case, people may well come under that scheme or under general immigration routes if their employment and qualifications allow.
My Lords, none of us will forget the moving and memorable statement of the Secretary of State for Defence during that dreadful period in August when he said, “They will not all get out.” What is the current estimate of those who have not got out—including, of course, the interpreters mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly? This was a shameful incident, and we need to know.
It is very difficult to give a figure for those who have not got out. I have given the figure for those who have got out—15,000—but it is difficult to know how many have not. Anybody contacted—and many people have contacted me—is signposted to GOV.UK to check the latest information on resettlement schemes. It is very difficult. There are people in your Lordships’ House who are desperately worried about family, friends and colleagues.
My Lords, a five year-old boy whose family had fled the Taliban, Mohammed Munib Majeedi, fell to his death from a hotel in Sheffield last year. The Metropolitan hotel in Sheffield had been condemned only a few months earlier by the Home Office as “unsafe and unsuitable” for refugees to stay. Why, therefore, did the Home Office allow this family to stay in such a hotel?
My Lords, the noble Lord highlights a terrible event in Sheffield. We need to ensure, first, that the quality of accommodation is of a standard and we avoid such terrible incidents, and, secondly, that we ensure that we get people into permanent accommodation.
My Lords, do the Government really not know how many interpreters we had in Afghanistan? That seems extraordinary. They must have been paid by the British Government or others on their behalf. Surely the Minister can find out, if she is unable to tell us today, how many we had.