Great Britain
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Home Office refuses to reveal details of Afghans’ resettlement

The Home Office will not say how many of the airlifted Afghans qualify to be rehoused in the UK and has refused to reveal how many families have already moved out of hotels and into homes.

But by calling around local authorities and devolved administrations, the Guardian has started to build a fractured picture of which areas have stepped up to do their bit.

The government has repeatedly said it wants a “fair” distribution of Afghans around the country but has no plans to use a quota system to force every local authority to take their share – unlike in Germany, where refugees are distributed fairly among the federal Länder using a formula based two-thirds on the tax revenue and one-third on the size of the local population.

Nonetheless, in Yorkshire, all 15 local authorities have agreed to house Afghans on a roughly proportional per capita basis, said Dave Brown, from Migration Yorkshire, which is coordinating the resettlement. As Yorkshire has 8% of the UK population, they were working on the basis of the region accommodating 8% of the new arrivals.

So far, 44 Afghan households have been given permanent homes in Yorkshire. Among them are the family of Munib Mohammed, the five-year-old boy who died after falling out of a window in a Sheffield hotel in August.

London council officials have requested that most of the 4,000 Afghans living in hotels in the capital be dispersed around the country for longer term resettlement, protesting against the disproportionate burden and pointing out that housing costs and shortages in the capital make it challenging to find permanent housing for them all.

There is very little council accommodation available for families with a large number of children, making the situation more complex. There is a commitment to help, however, and negotiation continues with the Home Office, with about 300 London homes being offered.

“It is practically impossible to get a private rented sector flat in central London under the housing benefit cap, so we’re reliant on council housing to house the refugees, and there is a huge shortage of that,” one council official said, suggesting that the government offered extra funding to support refugees in the private rental sector.

Afghans do not get to choose where they are resettled and so can end up a long way away from amenities they may need, such as a mosque or a halal butcher.

In Cumbria, the county council complains of a “chaotic” system in which families arrive unannounced, sometimes allocated numbers rather than names by the Home Office. Some are too big for the available housing and are sent back to hotels hundreds of miles away.

Cumbria has agreed to take 137 Afghans on the Arap scheme and has already rehoused nine families and a total of 33 people.

In Greater Manchester, which already houses a disproportionate number of asylum seekers, leaders are still wrangling with the government over funding but have agreed to take their per capita “fair share”, according to a spokesperson for Paul Dennett, the mayor of Salford, who is leading on the resettlement effort.

More progress has been made in the Midlands, with Birmingham agreeing to take 80 Afghan interpreters and their families and Herefordshire committing to rehousing 56 Afghans by Christmas and a total of 125 by 2021. In Coventry, 67 individuals have already been resettled under the Arap scheme, with the council agreeing to take up to 150 overall. Shropshire has agreed to take just three Arap families.

In Scotland, more than 62 families have arrived across 12 local authorities, with a further 14 families expected over the coming weeks. Scotland’s local government association, COSLA, says councils are continuing to identify further suitable properties, and also working with the Home Office to gain a fuller picture of numbers and composition of families.

In Wales, all local authorities have agreed to rehouse Afghans, as they each did with the Syrian resettlement scheme from 2015. As of mid-September, approximately 230 individuals from 50 families had arrived in Wales.