Ten families from Afghanistan will be offered sanctuary in Bristol initially as thousands seek refuge from persecution from the Taliban.
And more Afghan households fleeing their homeland will be welcomed to the city if more government funding is provided, according to Bristol’s mayor.
Bristol City Council is among a growing number of local authorities making public commitments to resettle families from Afghanistan after Kabul fell to militants on Sunday.
South Gloucestershire Council has also announced it has identified three homes for Afghan households and is asking private landlords to come forward with more.
The government has set out a plan for the UK to take up to 20,000 refugees from the country, with up to 5,000 to be resettled in the first year.
Local charity Bristol Refugee Rights has joined hundreds of others in calling on the home secretary to support Afghan refugees with a raft of measures, such as allowing families to reunite, and granting refugee status to people already in the UK and those who make their own journeys here.
This comes after Bristol City of Sanctuary published an open letter last month in protest at proposed changes to asylum and immigration laws, which they say would further undermine the UK’s commitment to protecting the rights of refugees.
‘We need to do more’
Marvin Rees pledged that Bristol would resettle ten families, saying the participation of private landlords in the resettlement scheme would be “essential”.
The mayor called on private landlords to offer up rentals that could be used to house Afghan families and on the government to provide more resources so that the council can resettle an even greater number of households from Afghanistan.
“We need to do more,” he said. “[But] we need to move at a pace that the city can cope [with].
“It’s just heartbreaking what we see happening to people and the desperation of people clinging to the bottom of an airplane.
“Our responsibility as a country, as a city, is to try and contribute to making sure that governance in that country…is as subject to the requirements to delivering protected human rights as possible, but also to support those people who want to leave the country, in particular those who have worked and fought alongside us over the last two decades.
“We’re reviewing our ability to take new families, households, in light of the fall of the government there.
“But our target at the moment is to bring ten families.
“But what we will be saying to government is, release more resource and we’ll be able to bring more people here.
“That is for the good of our wider population, but it’s also for the good of those people who get settled here, so that we can provide the resources and the support networks they need to be able to flourish and not end up isolated and all the other risks that come round people when they move.
“One of the worst things we could do is to bring people here without the capacity to support those people with what they’ll need…and so we’re taking quite a sober approach in line with the resources we have available at this moment in time.
“Where we have the capacity and the support to make sure that we can create the conditions to make sure that people can come here and flourish, then we will up our numbers.”
Bristol City Council works as part of the South West Regional Strategic Migration Partnership.
The city has taken in five families from Afghanistan – a total of 20 people – since April, Mr Rees said. A spokesman for the council has clarified that the target of ten families does not include that figure.
On a personal level, the mayor said, he is among a number of influential figures supporting a school teacher and his family to leave Afghanistan safely. Mr Rees studied with his friend, who he described as a “humble” man, at Yale University.
On an international level, Mr Rees said he would ask today for a meeting of the Mayors’ Migration Council, a global network of ten cities of which he is a member.
“That is a route for us as a city to feed into the approach taken by the United Nations, which obviously provides a context for the approach taken by national governments as well,” he said.
South Glos doing their bit
South Gloucestershire Council is also standing by to play its part in supporting those who are resettled to the UK from Afghanistan, and is calling on private landlords to come forward with suitable accommodation.
Councillor Franklin Owusu-Antwi, who has previously served in Afghanistan and is council’s armed forces champion, said: “We are already working closely with partner organisations, who will be able to work directly with any refugees who resettle in South Gloucestershire, as well as identifying suitable accommodation so that those who come here can be given a safe and supported welcome.
“We have already identified at least three family homes which we believe will be suitable for those who may be coming from Afghanistan,” the cabinet member for public health and equality of opportunity said.
“We stand by our own armed forces veterans and others who risked and sacrificed so much to help in Afghanistan; so it is right that we also now stand by those local people who worked alongside them, often sharing the same risks, and who now need our help.”
Landlords or owners of properties in South Gloucestershire who believe they may have suitable accommodation available in the coming weeks and months who would like to discuss providing housing for those being resettled are invited to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We know that four-bedroom family homes are likely to be in particularly high demand,” a spokesperson for the council said. “Rent will be paid within the housing benefit cap.”