Ten families from Afghanistan will be offered sanctuary in Bristol initially as thousands seek refuge from persecution from the Taliban.
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 (August 15).
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.
Marvin Rees pledged that Bristol would resettle ten families at a press briefing today (August 18), 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 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, but we need to move at a pace that the city can cope with," Mr Rees said.
“It’s just heartbreaking what we see happening to people and the desperation of people clinging to the bottom of an airplane.
He continued “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.”
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, talks to journalists:
Councils across Gloucestershire have also pledged to help families fleeing from Afghanistan to resettle in the UK.
County council leader Mark Hawthorne said they would help in any way they can.
Local authorities have already committed to helping 35 Afghan translators and their families build a new life in Gloucestershire.
“In the same way as we have supported 83 Syrian families to settle in the county since 2015, we will support the national effort, to help the most vulnerable Afghan people to settle in the UK, in any way we can,” Cllr Hawthorne said.
“Together with our district partners we have already committed to supporting 35 Afghan translators and their families following their work with the British Army and are working with our health, education and social care teams to make sure their needs can be fully met and they are supported to build a new life.”
Cotswold District Council leader Joe Harris said the harrowing scenes witnessed in Afghanistan over recent days are a reminder of how lucky we are to live in a peaceful country.
He said the district council is keen to support the effort to relocate Afghan refugees in the Cotswolds as they did successfully with a small number of refugees fleeing Syria in recent years.
“In particular, we’ve been working with our partners across Gloucestershire to relocate those who worked with British forces in Afghanistan and their families,” he said.
“In order to help make this a reality we need the Government to provide us with funds and logistics above and beyond what they’ve already offered.
“We are proactively looking for three and four bed properties to house these families so please get in touch with the council if you can help.”
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.
Credit: Amanda Cameron and Carmelo Garcia, Local democracy reporters