Stockport has welcomed 19 Afghan refugee families who would be at ‘signifcant risk’ were they to remain in their homeland.
They have arrived in the borough as part of the government’s Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme.
The programme has been set up to support those who helped the UK mission in Afghanistan and would be in danger should they stay in the South Asian country.
It comes after UK and US troops pulled out of Afghanistan following a 20 year-occupation that came in the wake of the 9/11 atrocity.
The families have arrived from quarantine and will be staying in a hotel allocated by the Home Office as a temporary arrangement until longer-term, more suitable accommodation can be secured across the country.
Stockport council – together with health and public sector partners – will support the new arrivals and assess their needs to ensure they are provided for during their short stay.
Councillor Amanda Peers, cabinet member for inclusive neighbourhoods, said she was ‘proud’ the borough was stepping up to help.
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She said: “People recently evacuated from Afghanistan have been through an incredibly traumatic time. I am pleased that along with our Greater Manchester partners we can offer them a place of safety in the borough until more permanent arrangements are made.
“We are a kind and welcoming borough and we have already received lots of offers of support, for which I thank our local communities.”
She added: “We are proud to be doing what we can to help those experiencing this unimaginable hardship and will work alongside other agencies to make sure the evacuees are as comfortable as possible during their temporary stay with us.”
Councillors have welcomed the move but raised concerns that they were kept in the dark over the arrangements.
Councillor Chris Gordon told a Werneth Area Committee meeting it was a ‘fabulous idea’ and he was ‘fully in favour of it’ – but was unhappy he found out through police, rather than the council.
“If we are not told about it we can’t fully inform our residents if they ask us about it, because we don’t know,” he said.
“It’s not the action, it’s the inaction of whoever in the council is not letting the local councillors know about it.”
Coun Gordon added it was not the first time this had happened, and he hoped it would not become a habit.
“I really would find it quite insulting if they didn’t inform us about it because they didn’t think they could trust us, which unfortunately is the overhanging idea I have over this,” he said.
“It’s not about the rehousing of these people, because it’s vitally important – they worked for us during this difficult time in Afghanistan and they deserve to be here. It’s the fact that we were not told about it
“Please don’t think it’s about the rehousing itself, its the fact we were not given any information beforehand about it and had to be told, on the evening they were arriving, by local police.”
As part of the government’s Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme, 5,000 Afghans will be allowed to settle in the UK, with the long-term goal a total of 20,000. It will focus on women and children as well as religious and other minorities in greater danger from the Taliban.
Werneth Area Committee met at Stockport Town Hall on Monday night (September 13).