Council ready to help war refugees but say it needs government's help

Afghans still in hotels months after fleeing Taliban

Friday, 11th March — By Isabelle Stanley

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Council leader Georgia Gould

CAMDEN is open to welcoming Ukrainian refugees fleeing Vladimir Putin’s missiles, despite having hundreds of Afghan families still living in hotels ­– and receiving no funding help from the Home Office.

As Russia’s invasion continued, the council said it was willing to help play a part in providing a haven.

There are, however, already more than 700 refugees who fled the Taliban in Afghanistan last year living in hotels in Camden, still waiting for long-term accommodation.

Councillor Georgia Gould, the council leader, took questions at a scrutiny meeting on Thursday night when Holborn and Covent Garden ward councillor Awale Olad suggesting it was possible that “thousands of Ukrainians could be coming to London, potentially Camden”.

Cllr Gould said: “We have a duty as a country to provide refuge to people fleeing these terrible circumstances.”

This week it remained unclear where new refugees would be placed and how the council would fund their care.

Cllr Gould said: “Families should not be living in hotels for these long periods and it’s been taking far too long for the Home Office to move people into long-term accommodation.”

She added: “We and other local authorities have made offers of long-term accommodation but we’re seeing that to be incredibly slow.”

She told the meeting: “It’s not that we don’t have across this whole country the capacity of homes to support people – we absolutely do. I just don’t think we are working closely enough with local government to ensure we’re quickly moving people into that support.”

Cllr Gould added: “There are many more people who could be housed in Camden, if the government was willing to do that, because it’s an issue of cost… We’ve got huge pressures on our council housing. We have made council homes available but there’s huge pressures.”

Cllr Gould acknowledged the need to avoid the chaos of the Afghan refugee arrival.

“We saw nationally a real failure of planning. We ended up in a position where the Home Office who were in charge of the scheme didn’t work at all with local authorities.

“We were told the day before, not even told at all in other instances, that hundreds of people were coming to our borough and they were met with absolutely no support.”

When the Afghan refugees arrived in August, the council and government were unprepared – there was insufficient clothing, food, and health support.

Benaifer Bhandari, chief executive officer of Euston charity Hopscotch, which has spearheaded the support of the Afghan refugees, said: “We are in a position to expand our services according to need. That doesn’t mean it will be easy because having the right people to support refugees, rather than the size of the service, is important.”

 

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