Letter from Cllr Kevin Bonavia to the Home Secretary Priti Patel re the Afghanistan refugee crisis
The humanitarian catastrophe is immense with over 3.5 million displaced Afghan people and it is likely to continue escalating. We are particularly concerned about the safety of women, girls and children who are exposed to fear, violence and uncertainty in Afghanistan.
Unless the international community, including the UK, ensures that there are effective safe and legal routes for refugees from Afghanistan, we fear that many hundreds of thousands of fleeing people will be exposed to the dangers of trafficking, exploitation and death.
We therefore urgently call on the Government to implement a national refugee resettlement programme with target numbers from Afghanistan so that local authorities can plan ahead effectively and provide sanctuary.
Lewisham and many other local authorities stand ready to work with the Government in resettling those Afghans who desperately need a place of welcome and safety. As a Borough of Sanctuary, we are committed to supporting migrants, asylum seekers and refugees and to date have resettled 33 refugee families via the Syrian Resettlement Programme (VPRS) and UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS) by working in partnership with the community and charity sector.
We have already committed Lewisham’s participation in the Afghan Relocation Scheme for locally employed staff supporting the UK in Afghanistan, but the Scheme is limited in scope and we are concerned about the 12 month time limit in funding provided for the staff and their families.
On the issue of wider resettlement, we understand that the Government will commit to resettle a number of Afghans, but it must go further. We believe the new UK Resettlement Scheme should be applied to the Afghan crisis along similar lines to the old VPRS with a national target, so local authorities can plan effectively to resettle Afghans in their communities. Any resettlement scheme must grant those fleeing Afghanistan the same rights and protections as other vulnerable refugees from Syria and the Middle East.
Afghanistan is facing an unimaginable crisis. Lewisham stands ready and willing to support the Government in resettling those who desperately need sanctuary.