A cross-government effort is underway to support Afghans arriving in the UK to receive the vital support they need to rebuild their lives, find work, pursue education and integrate into their local communities.
Overseen by Afghan Resettlement Minister Victoria Atkins, Operation Warm Welcome includes funding to support schools to provide education for child refugees, help for councils to meet the demand for housing and provide liaison officers to support refugees to navigate the system in the UK such as accessing a GP and other support.
Furthermore, as part of the New Plan for Immigration, the government announced that those coming to the UK through resettlement routes would receive immediate indefinite leave to remain, and the Home Secretary has announced that this will apply to Afghans who worked closely with the British military and UK government in Afghanistan, and risked their lives in doing so, meaning they can now stay in the UK without any time restrictions.
People already relocated to the UK under the Afghanistan Relocations and Assistance Policy will be able to apply free of charge to convert their temporary leave into indefinite leave, to “provide Afghans the certainty and stability to rebuild their lives with unrestricted rights to work and the option to apply for British citizenship in the future”.
Afghan Resettlement Minister Victoria Atkins said: “Operation Warm Welcome is a huge effort across government to make sure that those fleeing Afghanistan are able to make a success of a new life in the UK.
“The stability of indefinite leave, the security of access to healthcare and the opportunity of education are the foundation upon which those resettled to the UK can build,” she added.
The support under Operation Warm Welcome includes:
Further, at least £12 million will be made available to prioritise additional school places so children can be enrolled as soon as possible, and to provide school transport, specialist teachers and English language support to assist with learning.
Additional funding will be provided for up to 300 undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships for Afghans at UK universities. Adults will also be able to access English language courses free of charge.
Families who need support navigating the system will also have access to liaison officers who can work with local authorities to help them get set up with a GP, National Insurance number, school place, accommodation and more tailored support, as required.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “This support package will help Afghan evacuees start a new life in the UK and I’m proud we are providing £3 million to ensure they receive the healthcare they need. This includes access to prescriptions, wound care and dressings, maternity care, mental health support, and screening for infectious diseases. We will also offer the protection of a COVID-19 vaccination as they settle and rebuild.”
The Refugee Council, which works with many of people who have fled Afghanistan, recognises the government is working at speed but is concerned that newly evacuated refugees are not always getting the support they need – or the warm welcome they deserve. The vast majority have been put in temporary hotel accommodation, where many have faced a number of challenges:
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said: “The government has worked hard to respond to this unprecedented situation, but it is alarming traumatised families and children have been left without basics, such as sanitary products and medicine, and with little information about what is happening to them. It is vital that interim accommodation is safe and appropriate, to help them recover and rebuild their lives. The best place for these families is in family homes, embedded in communities, and this outcome must be achieved as soon as possible.
“Too many refugees and people seeking asylum are forced to live under conditions that damage their health and wellbeing, including being forced to live on less than £5 day, as part of the government’s hostile environment. All refugees must be treated with dignity and given a warm welcome rather than a cold reception.
“Quick decisions need to be made for the more than 3,000 Afghans in the asylum system. We continue to call on the government to re-think its harsh, unfair and ineffective Borders Bill and give those fleeing oppressors, such as the Taliban, a fair hearing on British soil regardless of how someone reaches our shores,” he concluded.
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