Rother councillors welcome Afghan resettlement scheme

Rother council leaders have welcomed progress on a scheme to resettle Afghan refugees within the district. 

Wednesday, 6th October 2021, 10:55 am
Bexhill Town Hall

On Monday (October 4), cabinet members received an update about Rother District Council’s involvement in two government funded schemes to resettle Afghan nationals within the UK.

During the meeting, members heard how the council intended to build upon its experiences of the resettlement of Syrian refugees to take in at least two families in the near future, with more likely to follow. 

Cabinet member for regeneration Christine Bayliss (Lab) said: “I would like to say how proud I am of Rother District Council that we have got involved in this scheme and are doing our bit. 

“I have been involved on the other side of the fence supporting Syrian families in Bexhill and it’s been a wonderful experience. To be able to help families who have come from the most appalling of circumstances of fear and get them part of the community in Bexhill is really interesting work. 

“I would say if there are members of the public who are watching this broadcast this evening, I think we are still looking for properties to use. We don’t use our own social housing or housing that would be available on the housing list, we use new properties that come forward just for this particular purpose. 

“So if there are people who are watching this please do get in touch with the council ,you will find it is a good thing to get involved with and very rewarding.” 

Due to the terms of the schemes, only private rented properties are to be considered, rather than any existing social housing. This is due to what council papers describe as “significant and increasing pressure on housing and homelessness services across the county”.

This element did see some concerns raised by Cllr Paul Osborne (Con), chairman of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee.

He said: “We were successful with the Syrian rehousing of families, but we are only as successful as the properties we are offering. 

“I was just thinking it is probably extremely difficult at the moment because no one has been abroad for holiday so an increasing amount of holiday homes that people are seeing are making a lot of money. 

“Does that prevent people from offering [a property] as a long term let for people who need it? The job isn’t an easy one, but how do we [convince] landlords or people who have got second homes to put it to good use rather than just let it out over summer?”

In response, officers said the previous scheme had seen the council work closely with landlords and offer a great deal of support to both parties in the letting. This had seen landlords from the Syrian resettlement scheme come back to the council after those lets had ended, officers said. 

The two programmes are the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) and the separate Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS).

The first scheme, ARAP, is intended to resettle those who worked alongside British forces in Afghanistan. Nationally, the programme aims to resettle 3,000 people (approximately 600 families). Eight of these families are to be resettled within East Sussex, of which two will be in Rother.

The second scheme, ACRS, was announced more recently. It is intended to prioritise vulnerable people, including women and girls and members of at risk groups,  including members of ethnic and religious minorities and LGBT+.

It is far larger in scope than the previous scheme and aims to resettle 20,000 households nationally, of which 5,000 households would be resettled in the first year of the programme. Of these, around 200 households are expected to be resettled within East Sussex.

As part of this, the council and the other local housing authorities in East Sussex have formed a group to oversee preparations for the new programme, bringing together partners from across housing, health, education, social care, and the community sector.

Those arriving through either scheme will be granted immediate Indefinite Leave to Remain, allowing them to benefit from full rights and entitlements of residency.

In addition, the council will receive a tariff of £20,520 per person over three years to help with integration and resettlement. The amount is equivalent to the per person tariff under the Syrian resettlement schemes.