Afghanistan refugees will be housed in Edinburgh hotels and MoD houses
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It is understood the city’s housing shortage has made it impossible for the Home Office to source appropriate housing in the city in time, with hotels being used ‘due to the pressure of numbers now being resettled’.
The UK Government has so far indicated it will resettle 5,000 Afghans in the UK during the first year of the Afghan Resettlement Scheme, with up to a total of 20,000 in the long-term.
Last year it emerged that the average waiting time for a three-bedroom council house in the capital was over three years.
The Home Office says it is ‘committed to providing protection for vulnerable people fleeing Afghanistan’, and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has indicated the UK Government will be establishing offshore processing centres in countries such as Pakistan and Turkey.
In a letter to councillors, sent ahead of a full meeting on Thursday, Edinburgh City Council leader Adam McVey said the city would ‘offer support and housing to as many Afghans in need as possible’.
In his report, the Leith SNP councillor wrote: “Nobody can fail to be shocked and appalled by the news coming out of Afghanistan and as a city we stand ready to help in whatever way we can.
“Scotland’s capital has a long and proud history of welcoming people escaping desperate circumstances such as these.
“Our highly skilled team has forged a positive track record over the last five years, successfully welcoming, supporting and settling more than 500 people displaced by the Syrian civil war into our city.
“We’re in contact with both the UK Government and Scottish Government and are developing plans for how best we and our partners can offer support and housing to as many Afghans in need as possible.
“We hope to be in a position to confirm the level of Edinburgh’s involvement very soon.
“Meanwhile we continue to work at pace with the Home Office and our partners in the city to ensure support is in place for those fleeing for their lives as the situation in their homeland deteriorates.”
A briefing note sent to councillors highlights that the Home Office is now looking at procuring hotel accommodation in Edinburgh.
The briefing note reads: “Members will be aware of the recent deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan and press reports of the various ways in which the UK Government is responding to its humanitarian implications.
“Officers are in regular contact with both the UK and Scottish Governments to develop plans for how best the council and our partners can offer support and housing to as many Afghan refugees as possible.
“Permanent resettlement for a cohort of Afghans (and their families) previously employed by the British Services in Afghanistan is being explored.
“They would be housed in surplus Ministry of Defence property. Agreement on leasing from the MoD is still to be reached but is being progressed as a matter of urgency.
“The Home Office has indicated (via COSLA) that, due to the pressure of numbers now being resettled, it intends to move forward with plans to procure hotel accommodation in Edinburgh.
“Due to the speed with which plans are being developed, details – including exact numbers and locations – are still to be confirmed.
“Work will continue with the Home Office and partners and particularly services such as education and health to coordinate arrival and support planning.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK Government will always stand by those fleeing persecution or oppression in their hour of need, which is why thousands of Afghans most in need will be welcomed to the UK through one of our most ambitious ever resettlement schemes.
“Each and every day we work closely with local authorities across the United Kingdom to ensure suitable accommodation and support is in place for those seeking asylum or resettlement in the UK.
“We are grateful to all local authorities who currently support and would encourage all local authorities to come forward and offer further assistance to these vulnerable people.
“Whilst permanent accommodation is sourced the Home Office is ensuring that there is sufficient safe contingency accommodation where people’s immediate needs can be met.
“Dedicated civil servants continue to work round the clock with local authorities to ensure those arriving in the UK have the accommodation and assistance they deserve.”