Just a third of local councils have so far signed up to the Government’s scheme to help resettle Afghan refugees, ministers have today revealed.
Around 15,000 Afghans have been evacuated in the last fortnight following the Taliban‘s takeover, of which around 8,300 are eligible under the Government’s Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP).
Today it was announced that Afghans eligible for the scheme will be able to have indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
But ministers also admitted that only 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 ARAP scheme.
When asked by MailOnline, the Home Office refused to say which councils had signed up to the scheme, which authorities they were still in talks with and which councils had declined to take part.
However, 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.
It comes amid warnings of extra pressure on already strained social housing from local authority bosses.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, 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.
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)
‘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.’
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.
But, speaking later on radio station on LBC, Ms Atkins addressed concerns over added strain the resettling scheme would add on local authorities.
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.
‘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.
‘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.’
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
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’.