Afghanistan: Concern over pace of refugee resettlement

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Image caption,
Up to 20,000 Afghans will be welcomed by the UK

Concerns have been raised about the pace of Northern Ireland's involvement in the UK government's scheme to rehome Afghan refugees.

Families have now been resettled in England, Scotland and Wales but no one has come to Northern Ireland.

The Stormont Executive said plans to rehome 840 people from Afghanistan were at an "advanced stage".

Alliance MP for North Down, Stephen Farry, said there are "huge frustrations" around the scheme.

Mr Farry told BBC Radio Foyle he feared the plight of Afghan refugees "had very much fallen down the political agenda" since the fall of Kabul in August.

"The promises made by the UK government have made in terms of bringing people to the UK, even those haven't been fulfilled yet," he said

"We've essentially had a trickle of people coming in".

Image caption,
Some Afghan refugees in the UK have been living in hotels for two months

Many of those who have come to the UK are now waiting in hotels to be allocated permanent housing, Mr Farry said.

"I suspect what will happen is when we move to that next phase, the move to long-term housing, that's when Northern Ireland may come into play," he added.

A spokesperson for the Executive Office said that of the 840 people who would come to Northern Ireland, an initial 360 were "expected to arrive in the first year".

The spokesperson said: "The exact timing of the arrival will depend on the Home Office identifying Afghan families for whom the housing that is available here will be suitable and organising the transport for those families from Britain."

Plans to ensure "all the necessary support arrangements are in place are at an advanced stage," the spokesperson said.

"No Afghans have arrived here so far, but we have worked hard to get into a position to welcome the first group of families - who are currently in bridging accommodation in England, Scotland and Wales - as soon as possible," they added.

Image caption,
Sinead McLaughlin said there had been "no formal communication" about the number of refugees to come to NI

The chairwoman of the Executive Office committee, Foyle SDLP assembly member Sinead McLaughlin, said there had been an unacceptable lack of information around the resettlement plans.

"Ultimately this is about resettling people who have had a traumatic experience, who have had to leave their homeland," she said.

"I have had no formal communication, and the committee had had no formal communication on the Northern Ireland allocation, in terms of numbers."

'New life in the UK'

Thousands of people fled Afghanistan when the country fell to the Taliban in August, as United States and UK troops withdrew after 20 years on the ground.

About 15,000 people eligible to come to the UK were evacuated in the final two weeks, including 8,000 Afghans who had worked alongside British forces.

A UK government spokesperson said the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme was "one of the most generous schemes in our country's history.

"It will give up to 20,000 further people at risk a new life in the UK," they said.

"We continue to do all we can to enable British nationals and eligible Afghans to leave the country".

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