South Tyneside Council commits to support five refugee families from Afghanistan
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Thousands of people have been displaced after the Taliban’s swift takeover of the country, as Western forces withdrew from the Middle-Eastern territory this summer.
South Tyneside Council is one among approximately a third of councils in England that have so far pledged to support refugees from Afghanistan.
The Government has promised that up to 5,000 Afghan refugees will be accommodated for in the UK this year, and up to 20,000 in the longer term.
South Tyneside Council has now disclosed it plans to accommodate five families, adding local authorities across the country had a ‘collective duty’ to respond to the humanitarian crisis.
This commitment has been made subject to circumstances and support, the local authority added, as councils nationwide stress the need for adequate support from central Government.
A spokesperson for South Tyneside Council said: “Councils across the country have a collective duty to respond to this humanitarian crisis.
“South Tyneside stands shoulder to shoulder with a network of authorities ready and able to support Afghan refugees.
“Our response must place people at the heart of it. That is why we immediately set to work to scope out the support and resources needed to give displaced families the help they need, to ensure we are equipped to respond to the Government’s scheme and have the appropriate support mechanisms in place to manage a smooth transition for families arriving into South Tyneside.
“We are working closely with our regional partners and have pledged to welcome five families. We will keep this under regular review, in dialogue with Government and local partners, as the dynamics of the situation change.”
Political leaders in the north of England have argued that local authorities with larger budgets and smaller refugee commitments should be taking on greater numbers, with Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham stressing the need for the distribution over coming years to be ‘fair’.
There are 459 asylum seekers housed in South Tyneside at present.
The borough council said that number continued to rise, adding that it had participated in the Government’s unaccompanied asylum-seeking children scheme and would seek to support refugees from any country.
South Shields MP, Emma Lewell-Buck, told The Gazette that South Tyneside is a tolerant and ‘welcoming’ borough with many generous and ‘big-hearted’ residents.
“The council has committed to take on five families,” she said.
"But they haven’t said anything yet about whether they will take any refugees from the Afghan resettlement scheme [the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy].
"They didn’t take any Syrian refugees from the last settlement scheme, they said at the time, for ‘political reasons’.
"It’s not who were are in South Tyneside and South Shields – this is a welcoming place and we’re big-hearted people.”
The council spokesperson defended the local authority’s record on this front, also saying: “South Tyneside has already provided a safe haven for those seeking refuge over recent years.
"Working in partnership with our third sector, we have a strong history of successful resettlement, with existing families well integrated in our communities.”
Ms Lewell-Buck and her team have spent the summer recess period helping with efforts to evacuate 33 family members and loved ones of borough residents who still find themselves in Afghanistan – that number has now risen to 40, The Gazette understands.
She added: “South Shields has been enriched by people coming to live in the area in the past.
"And, above all, these people’s lives are at risk – we should be doing all we can to help them.”