Southwark Council has called for more clarity from the government with the Afghan refugees it is supporting in the borough.
There are roughly 200 Afghan refugees staying in Southwark at the moment, waiting to be permanently rehoused – although this number goes up and down as people come in and out. Roughly half of these are children, said Cllr Alice Macdonald, who is leading Southwark’s efforts with the refugees.
At the moment there are just four private landlords who have agreed to resettle families, and they should be moving in early in the new year, Cllr Macdonald said.
That means the vast majority of people who come to the borough as refugees will not stay here in the long term. Who gets to stay in Southwark is up to the Home Office, and no decision has been made yet.
Cllr Macdonald said the situation was creating unnecessary uncertainty for the people currently staying in the borough. As an inner London borough with an existing Afghan community, Southwark is a relatively attractive destination compared to other places in the UK.
Southwark wants more money from the government to spend on the refugees, as they currently only get £28 per day per person – coming to roughly £5,600 per day in total. Cllr Macdonald said costs could escalate, and there is a wider need to support all refugees properly, not just people from Afghanistan.
She added that despite the uncertainty, she was grateful to community groups like Panjshir Aid, Community Southwark and the Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers and Refugees, among others, for helping support the Afghan refugees in the borough.
Cllr Macdonald said that although they have escaped a terrible situation in Afghanistan, none of the refugees would have chosen the limbo they are currently living through.
As an example, she pointed out that the refugees are living in hotels at the moment, so are unable to cook for themselves. The council and other groups brought some of the families together to cook to help raise their spirits and recreate a sense of community.
Hadi Sharifi, chair of the British Afghan Society, is a Southwark resident but was visiting family when the army withdrawal was taking place.
He said: “I experienced first-hand the terror of escaping Afghanistan when I was visiting my family there. I was lucky that I had a home to go to here. So many refugees are not in that situation and remain in temporary accommodation when all they want is to start rebuilding their lives.
“I’m proud to have played a role in Southwark working with the local council, volunteers and other community organisations to welcome refugees here helping provide the support they needed from healthcare to education. We’ll continue doing everything we can to make refugees welcome here.”
A government spokesperson said: “The ongoing support of local authorities is vital to resettlement efforts, and councils will receive a generous funding package to support the resettlement of Afghan families.
“We are thankful to all those who have stepped forward to offer homes to Afghan evacuees as they build their new lives here in the UK, and continue to urge others to pledge their support.”
The government has said it would take 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan, including 5,000 in the first year.
We reported last month how Neil Coyle criticised the government for “incompetency” that he said lead to the deaths of constituents’ family members. The Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP also hit out at the Home Office for not setting up the Afghan citizen resettlement scheme yet, months after the crisis began.
The Home Office said in response to Coyle’s comments that it was “working at pace” to get the scheme set up in a challenging environment.