Bedford’s Mayor is being called upon to “act swiftly” and make sure our Borough shares some of the responsibility in supporting a resettlement scheme set up in the wake of the crisis in Afghanistan.
Bedford’s Conservative Councillors have highlighted the rapidly deteriorating picture in Afghanistan which means many Afghans are now in danger.
In a joint statement, the councillors highlighted that Afghans who previously worked with the British Forces are at grave risk of reprisals and death from the Taliban.
They added offering refuge is “our duty” and is the “right thing” to do to support those who have helped us and are in genuine need and fear of their lives.
Women and girls also face an uncertain future and fear a return to a repressive, hard-line regime that will deny them basic human rights, such as education.
“The resettlement scheme announced by Government is good news for those seeking a legal and genuine route to permanent settlement in the UK,” said Conservative Group Leader Cllr Graeme Coombes (Wilshamstead).
“The images from Afghanistan on our TV screens are truly shocking and show the rapid descent of the country into the hands of the barbarous Taliban regime.”
Cllr Coombes believes all councils must share resettlement responsibility, so it “doesn’t just fall on a few” to support them with a safe place to live, employment and education.
“Bedford Council should play its part in welcoming refugees to this part of the UK and then settling and integrating them,” he said.
“Britain has a long and proud history in international affairs and it is our duty to do the right thing and help and support those who have helped us and those in genuine need and fear of their lives.”
Closing his call to the Mayor, Cllr Coombes also highlighted other refugees who Britian and Bedford should welcome.
“We must also not forget our friends in Hong Kong,” he added, “many of whom are leaving because of the threats to democracy and the crackdown on human rights by the Chines Communist Government.”
In response to the call, a Borough Council spokesperson told the Bedford Independent they have had a commitment to welcoming vulnerable refugees since 2016.
“We were among the first local authorities in the country to respond to the Government’s original request in early June, to help with the relocation of Afghan nationals who had been employed by British forces in Afghanistan,” a council spokesperson said.
“The Council agreed to resettle two Afghan families in the Borough who arrived in early July, providing a home for these people and their families who have helped our country and would have been in danger if they stayed in Afghanistan as forces withdraw.
“In light of the recent developments in Afghanistan, we are looking to offer further support.”
Currently, Bedford Borough Council resettles up to five vulnerable families in the area each year.
More needs to be done
In his monthly column, Bedford and Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin (Labour) said that the resettlement scheme did not go far enough and more need to be done.
“It is imperative that the UK Government urgently coordinate with the UN and other international organizations to establish safe routes for refugees to neighbouring countries,” he said.
“On Wednesday, the Government announced a resettlement scheme to take 20,000 refugees over several years, but only 5,000 this year.
“This has already been derided by the UNHCR as ‘confusing and disingenuous’; most Afghans fleeing the Taliban will not be able to access the scheme.”
- Update: This article was updated at 13:52 on 20 August 2021 to add a response from Bedford Borough Council.