South Tyneside calls for more support for Afghan refugees and Armed Forces personnel

South Tyneside councillors have backed a motion calling for increased government support for Armed Forces personnel and Afghan refugees.

By Chris Binding
Monday, 25th October 2021, 4:43 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 9:03 am
S general view of the Jar-e-Sakhi Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp in in Qala e Naw district of Badghis province. -Drought stalks the parched fields around the remote Afghan district of Bala Murghab, where climate change is proving a deadlier foe than the country's recent conflicts.
S general view of the Jar-e-Sakhi Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp in in Qala e Naw district of Badghis province. -Drought stalks the parched fields around the remote Afghan district of Bala Murghab, where climate change is proving a deadlier foe than the country's recent conflicts.

At its most recent full meeting on Thursday, October 21, a debate was secured to discuss the recent withdrawal of British and US troops from Afghanistan.

The motion came from members of South Tyneside Council’s ruling Labour Group and set out several pledges including council chiefs writing to Government ministers on certain issues.

This included calls for ‘full resources’ to support those who have fought and been positioned in Afghanistan over the past 20 years and increased support for families seeking refuge.

Councillor Ruth Berkley, launching the motion, said she was proud that South Tyneside had a “history of welcoming those who have fled war conditions as refugees and asylum seekers.”

She also noted the role of borough volunteers who have helped to signpost refugee families to schools, local transport, libraries and government organisations “without fanfare or publicity.”

Cllr Berkley went on to say: “South Tyneside has a population of 155,000 residents across 72,000 households – we believe that amidst these large numbers we can find a very small number of homes for those fleeing for their lives.

“We have space and we believe we have a community who will help us integrate new families into a tolerant, strong and safe community.

“South Tyneside as an authority recognises our place not just at local, regional and national level but also internationally at times of crisis.

“By passing this motion we can create a legacy that we can give to those who supported us in Afghanistan, those who lost their lives or had their lives irreversibly changed through injury or experience in this conflict and for all the families and all those who lost loved ones.”

Councillors heard that South Tyneside Council had agreed to house five refugee families from Afghanistan as part of the government’s resettlement programme.

Labour councillor Margaret Meling added that future work for local authorities, partnerships and the voluntary sector around supporting refugees and both serving and retired military personnel “must be properly funded.”

An amendment to the motion was proposed by councillor David Francis, leader of the council’s Green Group, which included a specific resolution with regards to unaccompanied children seeking asylum.

It instructed the council’s chief executive to write to the Home Secretary to “express the council’s dismay at the government’s refusal to introduce a mandatory rota for the national transfer scheme” and to raise other issues.

This included concern that the “wider care crisis means that councils are struggling to fund and find placements for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.”

Cllr Francis went on to say: “Certainly I would welcome the work that has been done so far to support refugees, not just children but refugee families as well, adults and children.

“The amendment asks us to pledge to take a more active part in the national transfer scheme and to express some additional specific concerns to the government.”

However, the amendment failed to win support across the council chamber with nine votes in favour and 38 votes against.

The original Labour motion was then agreed, with 46 votes in favour and one abstention.

The motion in full reads:

Events in Afghanistan have stunned us all. From the removal of troops and the insurgence of the Taliban, the fear and loss of life has been devastating to watch unfold on television and in the media.

Many of our residents have direct experience of the events and conflict in the country – armed service personnel, family members, relatives and those who have already fled from conflict themselves.

We stand in solidarity with all of those who have represented the UK Armed Forces in Afghanistan, and those who have fled seeking safety.

The actions of the US Government in withdrawing from Afghanistan without a clear exit plan, and the UK Government for not challenging this, has destabilised the region and, as a consequence, the lives of millions of people are in turmoil.

South Tyneside Council calls upon the UK Government to do all it can to support those who have fled for their safety and to provide the resource for those who have supported our troops in Afghanistan who will be suffering from trauma, deep hurt and disappointment in the abrupt end to their efforts in this country.

We resolve to:

:: Instruct the Leader of the Council to write to the Prime Minister to raise serious concerns about the way in which the UK Government and international community have handled these events.

:: Instruct the Leader of the Council and Chief Executive to write to the Secretary of State for Defence, Rt Hon Ben Wallace MP, raising concerns about the impact that this will have on those who have fought and been positioned in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, calling on the UK Government to fully resource support to those who are suffering from trauma and health related issues.

:: Instruct the Leader of the Council and Chief Executive to write to the Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government calling on them to provide increased support to local authorities and statutory organisations supporting families seeking refuge in this country, specifically to ensure that local areas can meet their needs in terms of housing, education, health care and third sector support.

:: Instruct the Chief Executive of South Tyneside Council to continue to monitor the situation closely, ensuring that South Tyneside plays its role in supporting its share of families seeking refuge in the UK.