Update from Cllr Chris Sadler, Leader of Elmbridge Borough Council - 15 September
I would like to update Cabinet both on the Afghan families being supported in bridging accommodation within Elmbridge and the progress being made in our pledge to resettle up to 3 Afghan families on a long-term basis.
If I turn to the bridging accommodation first. This is interim accommodation which acts a bridge between the quarantine hotels that the families were placed in upon arrival in the UK and the longer-term accommodation that they are eventually resettled in. I must stress that the fact that there is bridging accommodation within Elmbridge places no responsibility or expectation on us to provide settled housing to the families placed there. Central Government is urging all local authorities to commit to help with the resettlement of Afghan families and as such, the expectation is that the families in the bridging accommodation will be helped to find more suitable accommodation across the country.
There are currently just over 200 Afghan nationals staying at the bridging hotel in Elmbridge, comprising 46 families and including just over 120 children. Officers within our Family Support and Housing Teams are both providing wrap-around support to the families and working with a range of partners to ensure that their needs are being met. As well as council staff providing support and advice to families, this week NHS colleagues are on site to undertake health checks on children and adults, arrange GP registration and to offer vaccinations. DWP staff have been providing advice on claiming benefits and finding work. The Penny Appeal charity has provided over £20,000 in emergency financial help to families and staff and clothing and other essential items (such as nappies) have been distributed following their donation by a range of partners. A number of charities, such as Elmbridge CAN and the British Red Cross are pulling together offers of help, from activity packs to children to trauma counselling for those that need it as well as access to English language lessons. Surrey County Council are drawing up plans around education provision and work is ongoing to offer a range of activities for the children in particular, through our Leisure Services Team. The families are both independent and very grateful for all their support and assistance.
We expect that the families will stay for up to three months in this bridging accommodation. We have, with partners, set up this operation at short notice in line with the request made by the Home Office and are awaiting confirmation as to the financial package that government will be providing to meet the costs of providing this wrap-around support. I am proud of the efforts of the council, partner agencies and the local community in providing a warm welcome to these families.
In terms of longer-term resettlement, we were one of the first councils in Surrey to make a commitment to resettle Afghan families, where members of the household had supported the UK Government’s efforts in Afghanistan. Indeed, we are in a minority of councils across the country to have pledged to assist.
We have pledged to resettle up to three families, subject to securing suitable accommodation and our property appeal to private landlord continues. I am pleased to say that we are making good progress on this, with firm offers of two properties, with one of these just waiting for the Home Office to refer a family to and with a number of other leads, we hope to meet the target of three soon. We have made a decision not to use housing that would otherwise be available as long-term social housing, given the pressures on it, but we will continue with our appeal to private landlords.
The situation in Afghanistan has changed significantly since we made our pledge in July, as we all know, and the government has committed to resettle significantly more Afghan nationals than originally anticipated. On Monday, the government provided details of the funding available to councils to help with the resettlement of Afghan nationals and I am pleased to see that this offer is better than those made previously and a truer reflection of the likely costs of supporting these families to settle properly in the UK. We will consider this new funding package carefully before looking to provide any further commitment.
You can watch the Cabinet meeting of 15 September through our webcast system.
Afghan nationals arrive in Elmbridge – 6 September
Elmbridge Borough Council is pleased to confirm that 199 Afghan nationals, including 113 children, have arrived in the borough to move into temporary accommodation, after the successful completion of their quarantine period. This accommodation is being funded by the Home Office and provided on a short-term basis; the families will be rehoused across the entire country into more settled housing over the coming weeks and months.
We are extremely grateful to residents across the borough and county, as well as our partners, for their generosity in asking how they can help and make donations to support these families. Working with health colleagues, we will ensure our guests are provided with the appropriate support while we assess their specific needs.
At this time, should you wish to help, we would ask you to provide financial donations only, through any one of the following:
Supporting Afghan families: 27 August
We have all been troubled by the scenes in Afghanistan of families fleeing their homes in desperation and Elmbridge Borough Council, like other councils around the country, will be part of the UK humanitarian response.
Currently we have pledged to resettle three families under the government’s Afghan Locally Employed Staff (LES) Relocation Scheme. These locally employed staff supported the UK military in Afghanistan, while putting themselves and their families at considerable risk.
We will be working with local voluntary organisations, charities and faith groups, to provide support to the families for up to a year after their arrival - from help with school placements, medical needs and arranging English lessons to setting up bank accounts and finding jobs.
We are urgently calling on private landlords with property in Elmbridge, to please consider signing up to the relocation scheme and help these families build a new life in our borough.
Additionally, you may have read that Spelthorne Borough Council has confirmed 58 Afghan refugees, including 10 women and 38 children, arrived in their borough to move into temporary accommodation, after the successful completion of their quarantine period. Elmbridge Borough Council is working with colleagues at Spelthorne Borough Council to assess what support each of these refugees will need.
History of support
Elmbridge Borough Council has previously resettled a number of Syrian refugee families under the government’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme.
From 2017, due to the generosity of our residents, we have been able to find homes for seven families and years later we continue to help these families; enabling them to live independently in the borough.
A wide variety of support needed
Housing is the first milestone of support needed for the Afghan families. Many will arrive with only a suitcase – can you imagine starting again in a new country with a different language and culture?
Medical assistance will be required, as well English language lessons and help with the practicalities of setting up a bank account. Cultural integration is another element of the provision needed, not to mention the emotional support to help people deal with this huge upheaval in their lives. Then comes action plans to help people get people into education and employment. Helping doesn’t stop when we hand over the keys of a property.
Working with partners
We will be working with local charities, such as Elmbridge CAN, as well as other councils and public organisations in the county, to come together in support of the Afghan families finding refuge in Elmbridge. This will take a coordinated effort but ultimately, we will all work for the best interests of the Afghan nationals fleeing their home.
What can I do?
- Our immediate need is accommodation, so if you have an empty property or are willing to rent space please review the criteria and get in touch if you can help.
- Due to operational and logistical challenges, as well as COVID control considerations, we are asking that any donations at this point are financial ones, to charities that are best equipped to immediately support Afghan refugees. The Community Foundation for Surrey is set up to administer these donations locally and information on how to donate can be found on their website.
- Elmbridge CAN has also issued an appeal for help on behalf of the Afghan refugees.
- Additionally the British Red Cross has issued a crisis appeal.
- The Government has launched a portal for pledges of offers of homes to accommodate people arriving from Afghanistan.
- Details of the Government's Operation Warm Welcome.
How can I get help?
- For veterans affected by what is happening in Afghanistan, support is available, including details of Op COURAGE, the Veterans Mental Health and Wellbeing Service.
Statement from all Surrey councils
27 August: Afghan Refugees in Surrey
Agencies across Surrey are currently helping with the repatriation of Afghan migrants to the UK. Surrey is a welcoming county, and several local boroughs have already opened their doors to help house individuals and families fleeing to the UK. Surrey County Council is also working closely with district and boroughs, health providers, the voluntary and charity sector, other local partners and central government to ensure families can be resettled safely.
While the immediate need is to find accommodation to house people once they have completed their stay through Managed Quarantine Service hotels, there are wider needs to be considered, including health, social integration and basic supplies.
Our communities stand ready to support this effort and many Surrey residents are asking if they can help. Due to operational and logistical challenges, as well as COVID control considerations, we are asking that any donations at this point are financial ones, to charities that are best equipped to immediately support Afghan refugees. The Community Foundation for Surrey is set up to administer these donations locally and information on how to donate can be found on their website.
Alternatively, the Red Cross are already active in managing donations and supporting arrivals from Afghanistan, and wider local support will be needed from food banks and other charities, which can be found via Surrey Information Point.
Thank you for your generosity and support.