Just a third of local councils have signed up to the Government’s scheme to help resettle Afghan refugees, ministers have today revealed.
Around 100 councils – around a third of the 333 local authorities in England – have so far come forward to help families find homes under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP), officials say.
More than 15,000 Afghans have been evacuated in the last fortnight following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul.
Of those, around 8,300 are eligible under the Government’s ARAP scheme – set up for Afghans who worked alongside the British Government and Army during the Afghanistan conflict.
Today it was announced those eligible for the ARAP scheme will be able allowed indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
Officials say they are working ‘at speed’ on ways to rehouse the thousands of Afghan refugees who have so far been evacuated – with 10,000 currently staying in quarantine hotels.
But the Government now faces a possible clash with council chiefs, who have raised concerns about the possible impact on social housing.
Some council bosses are turning to the private sector to offer up accommodation instead of using their social housing stocks to house refugees.
Victoria Atkins, the minister in charge of leading efforts to resettle Afghans refugees in the UK, said she remained ‘confident’ that more authorities would join the scheme.
But she admitted more council houses needed to be built. Speaking to LBC during a round of interviews this morning, Ms Atkins said: ‘We continue all of our work on social housing and affordable housing. We need to get more houses built.
‘But we have to face facts, we have 10,000 people staying in quarantine hotels today.
Around 15,000 Afghans have been evacuated from the country in the last fortnight following the Taliban ‘s takeover, say Government officials, of which around 8,300 are eligible under the Government’s Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP)
Victoria Atkins, the minister in charge of leading efforts to resettle Afghans refugees in the UK, said was ‘confident’ that more authorities would join the scheme in the comings weeks.
‘Lies from a death cult’: Tom Tugendhat blasts Taliban after they claimed foreigners will be allowed out of Afghanistan
Tom Tugendhat has shot down Taliban claims that Britons stranded in Afghanistan will be allowed to leave safely – accusing the Islamists of running ‘a slick PR operation masking a vicious death cult.’
The Tory MP, a former Army Lieutenant Colonel who served in Helmand, hit out after a Taliban spokesman appeared on Good Morning Britain to claim that anyone ‘with proper documents’ will be allowed out once civilian flights restart.
Suhail Shaheen also insisted that women’s rights are being respected and that al Qaeda will not be tolerated – despite multiple reports of persecutions and images showing terrorist leaders arriving in the country.
‘I’m afraid your viewers have just been lied to,’ Mr Tugendhat said. ‘It’s absolutely clear that groups who make up the Taliban… have been rounding up people in Lashkar Gah and Kandahar and hunting them down in Kabul and killing them.
‘Universities are being closed… women are being denied access to education, girls are being denied access to education, and civil servants, female civil servants, are being sent home,’ he added.
Mr Tugendhat spoke out after it emerged that MI6 chiefs have met with the Taliban to discuss the fate of hundreds of Britons left behind when RAF mercy flights out of the country stopped.
Special envoy Sir Simon Gass, the chair or the Joint Intelligence Committee, met senior representatives of the group in Qatar to try to secure safe passage for those left behind.
That number is thought to include hundreds of British citizens and up to 9,000 Afghans who helped western forces in exchange for a promise of sanctuary.
Officers from MI6 also met the militia group, while the head of MI6 Richard Moore flew to Islamabad for talks with the head of the Pakistani army.
Speaking from his base in Doha, Shaheen sought to reassure GMB viewers that that Taliban are working to protect those left behind.
‘Every Afghan citizen who is intending to go abroad to another country and has proper documents like passports, visas – they can go. And they can also come to Afghanistan,’ he said.
‘But we urge them to stay in Afghanistan. As we have gained our independence, it is time for all Afghans to build their country. their capacities, their talents are direly needed.’
But Shaheen’s words jar badly with reports from the ground that fighters are going door to door executing anyone who is thought to have helped the west.
He also dismissed reports that women are being banned from the workplace, insisting that they are valued members of society who are being encouraged to work.
‘I’ve got to get them out of quarantine over the coming days into probably bridging accommodation, because, I’ve got to be frank, we haven’t got the housing stock to put them straight into homes.
‘But we’ve got to do this in a way that’s fair to British people.’
Asked by host Nick Ferrari if Afghan refugees would be allowed to ‘skip the housing list’ over people who have been on ‘waiting list for some years’, she said: ‘I don’t think it’s quite as clear cut as that.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about more councils joining the scheme Ms Atkins said: ‘We are a little bit further forward that those figures suggest, because we have had offers, firm offers, from at least a third of local councils and we are in talks with many many more.
‘So I am confident that that number will change over the coming days.’
During her appearance on the programme it was suggested that if all councils signed up to the scheme the each council would take around 25 Afghan refugees.
Ms Atkins, who holds the role of Minister for Safeguarding, replied: ‘Well this is a very strong argument in favour of all councils taking part.
‘We want to bring people with us on this and we’ve set up already a portal to help members of the public if they are able to make offers of accommodation.
‘We are going to be expanding that over the coming days so people can make donations. We want local councils to work with us.
She added: ‘We’ve found local councils are overwhelmingly interested and supportive.’
But one authority already pulling its support of the Government’s rehoming efforts is that of Stoke on Trent city council.
The council’s Conservative leader, Abi Brown, said the area had offered support despite ‘one in 250 people in the city being an asylum seeker.
Today she questioned why more local authorities are not helping with Afghan evacuees.
She told Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘How could you not watch those scenes on the television over the last few weeks and put forward over this?
‘But the question I would like to ask the other local authority leaders, 66% who haven’t nominated is – why can’t they?
‘If I can, with the challenges that we have, one in 250 people in Stone on Trent are an asylum seeker, and as a result of the pressure around that we have withdrawn from the asylum dispersal system, what’s their excuse?’
It comes as the Home Office today confirmed that Afghans who worked with the British government and military will be able to move to the UK permanently under the ARAP scheme.
The department announced the decision on Wednesday as it revealed more details of how its plan, dubbed Operation Warm Welcome, to help Afghans rebuild their lives in the UK would work.
Former Afghan staff and their family members eligible for the ARAP scheme, which prioritises relocation to the UK for current or former locally employed staff who have been assessed to be under serious threat to life, will be given immediate indefinite leave to remain as opposed to only five years’ temporary residency as previously permitted.
Those who have already been relocated in the UK with temporary residency can now upgrade their immigration status for free, allowing them access to permanent jobs with unrestricted rights to work.
It comes as the Home Office today confirmed that Afghans who worked with the British government and military will be able to move to the UK permanently under the ARAP scheme
Dominic Raab prepares for showdown with MPs over his handling of the Afghanistan crisis
Dominic Raab will be grilled by MPs this afternoon over his handling of the UK’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan amid a worsening Whitehall blame game.
The embattled Foreign Secretary is due to appear in front of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee from 2pm in what is expected to be a bruising encounter.
The Tory chairman of the committee, Tom Tugendhat, set the tone for Mr Raab’s appearance as he said the UK and US exit from Kabul had left people ‘defenceless in front of armed gangs’.
Meanwhile, other members of the committee have described the UK’s withdrawal from the country as the ‘worst crisis since Suez’ while Labour said it is the ‘biggest foreign policy failing in a generation’.
Mr Raab yesterday defended his handling of the situation and took aim at his critics as he appeared to blame the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office for some of the Government’s failings.
The Foreign Secretary has been widely tipped to be sacked at Boris Johnson’s next Cabinet reshuffle and today’s appearance in front of MPs could be crucial to his hopes of clinging on.
Westminster is braced for the clash between Mr Raab and Mr Tugendhat, with the latter having been a vocal critic of the handling of the withdrawal and the overall decision to leave the country.
The former soldier said last week that the exit from Afghanistan and the decision to leave many Afghan allies behind means Britain could face the ‘biggest hostage crisis the UK has ever seen’.
Mr Tugendhat said the UK and the US had been ‘defeated’ and ‘this is what defeat looks like’ after the Taliban completed its takeover of the country.
The Tory heavyweight warned yesterday that the manner of the departure from Afghanistan risked another war.
Responding to a US politician who tweeted ‘ending wars is good actually’, Mr Tugendhat said: ‘Ending wars is good. Leaving people defenceless in front of armed gangs is not how you end a war, it’s how you start a new one.
Mr Raab is expected to be quizzed about the Government’s preparations for the end of the deployment in Afghanistan, its handling of the evacuation operation and its plans for dealing with the Taliban in the future.
Separate to ARAP is the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme for citizens deemed most at risk under the Taliban.
Ms Atkins said it is yet to be decided whether those individuals will get indefinite leave to remain.
‘These decisions will be made in due course,’ she told Sky News.
‘But I very much hope from the announcements today British people, but also importantly Afghans who have moved to our country very recently, really get the sense of how warm and welcoming the Government wants to be towards them.’
So far councils across the country have already publicly announced their desire to support the Government’s efforts to rehome Afghan refugees.
Around 70 refugees are already thought to have arrived in Derby, where the city council says it ‘stands ready to help’ those fleeing the Taliban.
In Nottingham, the council has also pledged support, though it has not revealed how many Afghan refugees it has already taken in, similar to nearby Leicester.
Southampton City Council last month also pledged to house rehouse a ‘small number of families’ and said it would offer ‘further support if needed’.
And at least 27 of the 32 borough councils in London have so far said they would help support and resettle Afghan families, according to London Councils.
But other authorities, such as as Dorset Council, have publicly stated they will not be using social housing to support Afghan refugees.
The authority has pledged its support to rehoming Afghan refugees, but said it will instead look to the private sector for support.
It will be seeking privately owned, self-contained accommodation to house families.
Cllr Graham Carr-Jones, Dorset Council’s portfolio holder for Housing and Community Safety said: ‘I am acutely aware of the demand for emergency accommodation for local families on our housing register and in temporary accommodation.
‘I want to reassure people in this situation that they will not be disadvantaged by the work we are doing to help the government resettle Afghan families.’
On top of the ARAP, the Government is still developing the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, to take in up to 20,000 refugees who were forced to flee their home or face threats of persecution from the Taliban.
As many as 5,000 could arrive in the first year and will also be offered permanent residency.
Some £200 million has been committed to the scheme so far.
It comes as it was revealed last month that councils are set to get grants from the government to rent or buy large homes for thousands of Afghan refugees.
The average size of the families coming to the UK is thought to be seven, but at least one family is believed to be made up of 12 people.
So far local authorities have offered to host up to 2,500 people, but the numbers seeking refuge under the scheme for Afghans who helped British forces could reach five times that level.
Thousands more are expected to come to the UK under a separate longer-term resettlement scheme for those vulnerable to persecution by the Taliban.
Although the details are unclear, the suggestion of grants to buy homes could spark resentment in local communities, with many Britons struggling to afford such properties.
It comes amid fears more than 1,000 Afghans who assisted British troops face being left behind when mercy flights cease in the coming days.
A Government source told the Times: ‘The greatest challenge is that councils simply don’t have enough vacant properties.
‘We are looking at other options which could see councils renting properties of the right size or even purchasing them and adding them to their long-term housing stock.’
A welcome to make us proud: Relief as 10,000 Afghan heroes who risked their lives helping UK troops are given permission to live here indefinitely
By Jason Groves and David Williams for the Daily Mail
Thousands of Afghans who risked their lives to help British forces will be allowed to live and work indefinitely in the UK.
The Home Office last night said the coveted status would be granted immediately – and automatically – to around 10,000 refugees.
It will allow them to work and enrol their children in school as they try to build a new life here.
The decision fast-tracks a process that can take years and with only a limited right to remain.
Boris Johnson said the policy reflected the ‘immense debt’ owed to translators and others who had helped the UK military during the 20-year engagement.
Thousands of Afghans who risked their lives to help British forces will be allowed to live and work indefinitely in the UK. Pictured: Afghan refugees arrive at Heathrow Airport, London
The Home Office said the coveted status would be granted immediately – and automatically – to around 10,000 refugees. Pictured: Afghan refugees arriving into Heathrow last week
A Whitehall source said that the package, codenamed Operation Warm Welcome, was ‘the least we could do’ following the chaotic and bloody withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Ministers are still however under pressure to do more to help hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Afghans now in hiding from Taliban reprisals for helping British troops.
Its leaders have claimed they will not seek revenge but militants yesterday raided the homes of former translators in Kabul.
Former interpreters told the Mail they were living in fear for their lives after failing to secure a place among the 10,000 flown to Britain.
A 35-year-old who has qualified for relocation to the UK said: ‘No one believes the Taliban’s words of forgiveness. We helped the British kill and capture their men.
‘We provided the intelligence to fight against them. We questioned their captured and injured – so it is simple that they will want revenge.’
Refugees from Afghanistan arrive on a evacuation flight at Heathrow Airport on August 26
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday denied reports that more than 7,000 Afghans with links to UK forces had been left behind, but was unable to provide another figure.
He said the number of British citizens left in Afghanistan was in ‘the low hundreds’, following the evacuation of more than 15,000 people in the second half of August.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said around 300 Afghans granted refuge in the UK had been left behind, along with 700 relatives.
Normally, asylum seekers are banned from working while their claims are assessed. They are entitled to minimal financial support if they would ‘otherwise be destitute’.
Permission to work may be granted only if their claim has not been processed within a year through no fault of their own.
If they are eventually granted leave to remain it is typically capped at five years.
Dominic Raab (pictured with Borish Johnson) denied reports that more than 7,000 Afghans with links to UK forces had been left behind but was unable to provide another figure
By contrast, those who have served British forces will immediately be granted indefinite leave to remain, which brings with it the right to work and the option to apply for British citizenship.
Those eligible under the Afghanistan Relocations and Assistance Policy will also be eligible for immediate access to NHS services.
Councils have been offered a modest £5million to help with housing. Officials said they were working with more than 100 town halls and had so far found accommodation for more than 2,000 people.
Councils will be given an extra £12million to provide additional school places for Afghan children and further funding will be provided to create 300 university places.
Arrivals from Afghanistan will also be offered the Covid vaccine and given access to a portal where members of the public will be able to share offers of work and housing and make donations.
A Whitehall source last night told the Mail the package was ‘likely’ to be extended to 20,000 Afghans expected to come under a wider resettlement scheme – but this has not been decided.
The lucky ones: They made it… but scores of others didn’t. As Afghan interpreter families start a new life in the UK, meet the relieved parents who escaped a nightmare
They call themselves the ‘lucky ones’: four among hundreds of former British military interpreters whisked to safety in Britain as the Taliban returned. Scores more are left behind.
They risked their lives for Britain, and were initially denied sanctuary in the UK.
But the Daily Mail’s award-winning Betrayal of the Brave campaign took up cudgels. One by one, they were eventually told they could come to Britain.
Yesterday all four families were safe in quarantine hotels in London and Manchester. They could only watch the horrors back home unfold.
All are thankful to the Government, singling out Defence Secretary Ben Wallace for ‘making a difference’, and praising the support of ‘our brothers… the magnificent British soldiers who helped us at the airport’.
They are especially grateful to the Mail’s campaign for ‘being our voice, never forgetting us, fighting for translators and sharing our suffering’.
From their hotels, they told their stories. Bahawar Mayar, 60, and his family – wife Sheerina and children Husna, Samina, Adeena, Ghulam and Mustafa – made it past Taliban checkpoints to get on an RAF plane, but he is haunted by the thoughts of colleagues left behind.
‘I know I am lucky, I have escaped with my family,’ he said. ‘There are many still in Afghanistan who have not been so lucky. I pray for them.’
Escape from airport just hours before blast horror
Only 24 hours before a suicide bomb ripped through the crowds clamouring to make it into Kabul’s besieged airport last week, Waheed Sabawoon, his wife and two children were standing near the same spot.
Waheed, 29, said: ‘It is terrifying to think that could have been us trapped there. We had been in the same crush of people, the open sewage channel, and we had the fear of not knowing if we would ever make it through.
‘Instead, we watched the scenes on television from our hotel rooms, hardly able to believe it. We were very lucky to have escaped.
Only 24 hours before a suicide bomb ripped through the crowds clamouring to make it into Kabul’s besieged airport last week, Waheed Sabawoon, his wife and two children were standing near the same spot
‘It is such an emotional experience to feel safe for the first time in year, not to worry if the knock on the door is going to be the Taliban. This is the gift that Britain has given us and we will always be thankful because we did not believe it would happen.’
For years Waheed, who worked for the sensitive Electronic Warfare Unit and Brigade Reconnaissance Forces in Helmand province between 2010 and 2013, thought he would be among those left behind after a Kindle e-reader was found among his belongings in camp.
For years Waheed thought he would be among those left behind after a Kindle e-reader was found among his belongings in camp
He said it was given to him by an officer, but it was a rule that no electronic devices could be taken on to base areas without permission.
Waheed was dismissed, preventing him from being relocated to Britain. This ban was only overturned when the UK’s policy became more generous, allowing those terminated for minor offences to qualify.
In his hotel room with wife Mashita, 29, son Naveed, four, and two-year-old daughter Muska, he said: ‘It was a nightmare fearing we would not escape but I never gave up hope knowing that you [the Mail] were on my side and pressing my case. We are looking forward to making Britain proud, and giving back to it.’
We’re so happy… this is our home now
Two days ago, Farid Rahmani asked his four-year-old daughter Tahura whether she missed Afghanistan.
The answer was emphatic: ‘No. I want to stay here. We are happy now. This is home.’
The 37-year-old former senior translator at the British Embassy in Kabul said the words made him and his wife Fatima, 32, feel tearful.
Farid, shot three months ago in a Taliban ambush as he drove home, said: ‘The whole family are so happy to be here and to have left behind the Taliban bullets. Everything about the old Afghanistan which we liked is what the Taliban hates and will kill. They wanted me dead. We know we are lucky. My brother who worked ten years with the British is stuck with three colleagues.’
Two days ago, Farid Rahmani asked his four-year-old daughter Tahura whether she missed Afghanistan. The answer was emphatic: ‘No. I want to stay here. We are happy now. This is home’
Farid served Britain for 17 years. But he was one of 21 translators at the embassy told they did not qualify to come to the UK. Incredibly, he was rejected days after being shot.
After the Mail campaign highlighted his case, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is said to have personally intervened. All 21 were granted sanctuary. Farid and his wife have six children – Ahmad, 13, Mohammad, 12, Beseshta, ten, Sumaya, six, Tahura and Hasenat, two.
It’s a dream to fall asleep without fear
Latif Hottak, 37, and his family – wife Ruqia, 35, and children Zaki, 13, Sana, 11, Sama, ten, and seven-year-old Sudies – had been denied the right to come to the UK because the Ministry of Defence said he was dismissed from his job as an interpreter in January 2011
Latif Hottak looked out over the Thames from the window of his quarantine hotel and summed up the difference in his family’s life in the last few days as ‘unbelievable… from hell to heaven’.
Latif is an ex-interpreter, who spent six years with UK forces, three on the frontline
The ex-interpreter, who spent six years with UK forces, three on the frontline, said: ‘This is a dream. We are finally relearning the meaning of being able to relax, to fall asleep without fear and nerves, to wake with excitement and purpose.’
The 37-year-old and his family – wife Ruqia, 35, and children Zaki, 13, Sana, 11, Sama, ten, and seven-year-old Sudies – had been denied the right to come to the UK because the Ministry of Defence said he was dismissed from his job as an interpreter in January 2011.
But salary records, handed to the MoD by the Mail, suggested Latif was still working more than a year later.
Within days, he received the ‘wonderful news’ that the decision had been reversed.
Latif added: ‘This is possible because of the Daily Mail and my brother Rafi [a former interpreter blown up on the frontlines who has relocated to the UK]. Everyone else gave up on us.’