This is how many Afghan refugees Preston, South Ribble, Chorley and Wyre have offered to help so far

Lancashire’s district councils are assessing how many Afghan refugees they can help under a scheme designed specifically to resettle people from the country who helped UK armed forces during the mission in their homeland – with pledges to help 30 families so far made.

The government has announced that the UK intends to welcome up to 20,000 Afghans over a five-year period – with 5,000 of them set to arrive before the end of the year.

That commitment was made by ministers following the Taliban takeover over the country this month.

However, the UK had already established a programme to offer refuge to those who could be under threat because of their roles in assisting the army over the past two decades.

Internally displaced Afghan families, who fled from Kunduz and Takhar province due to battles between Taliban and Afghan security forces, eat their lunch at the Shahr-e-Naw Park in Kabul on 10th August, 2021

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Lancashire County Council, which is co-ordinating the region’s response to the Afghan Locally-Employed Staff Relocation Scheme, says that it has so far received no details from the government about the resettlement of ordinary civilians as part of the UK’s wider commitment.

So far, under the local workers resettlement scheme, the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) understands that South Ribble Borough Council has offered to help 10 families and is currently searching for suitable accommodation, while a previous commitment by Chorley to provide the same number of places for refugees in general could now be used for Afghans.

Preston City Council is currently considering how many families it can accommodate, but last week the authority passed a cross-party motion which called on the government not to put an "arbitrary limit" on the numbers allowed to come to the UK.

Preston leader Matthew Brown said that the city – which achieved City of Sanctuary status in 2017 for its efforts to welcome and support people escaping persecution and violence – should take its “fair share” of Afghan refugees.

He added at a meeting of the full council: “Refugees should be welcome in our community – these are people fleeing circumstances where they could very easily be killed through no fault of their own."

Wyre Council told the LDRS that it was not at the stage of agreeing numbers as yet, but added:

“Over the last four years, Wyre Council has been pleased to offer support to 11 Syrian refugee families who we’ve helped to resettle in the borough. We are currently looking to extend our support of the Government’s UK Resettlement scheme and provide support for up to five further Syrian households every two years.

“Additionally we are now looking to see how we can support government Afghan relocation schemes as the situation develops. “Our priority is to ensure that any relocated families are safe and settled and do what we can to help them become part of the local community.”

County Hall cabinet member for community and cultural services Peter Buckley said in a statement: “Councils across Lancashire have been asked to make a pledge about the number of families they can help, and so far confirmation has been received from Lancaster, Wyre, South Ribble and West Lancashire.

“Between them, they will be able to house 30 families, with our first family having arrived in Lancaster a few weeks ago.

“We are also set to hear back shortly from the county’s other district and borough councils – and expect this number to grow.

“When the families arrive, the Home Office will provide funding to help support the families while they integrate over the next 12 months,” County Cllr Buckley added.

The government’s Afghan relocations and assistance policy (ARAP) began back in April, as a replacement for previous resettlement arrangements for those who have helped UK forces over the past two decades. It offers three routes to the UK – including urgent relocation, by priority, to those assessed to be at risk of serious threat to life due to their work with the UK. That channel is open to all current or former staff employed directly by the UK government in Afghanistan since 2001, regardless of their role, job, length of service or reason for leaving.

Also available is relocation, by default, to a specific group of directly-employed current and former employees in what are deemed “exposed roles”, such as some embassy support staff, those in political or counter-terrorism functions, as well as cultural advisers and interpreters. Finally, ministers can also approve, at their own discretion, relocation of people considered special cases because of their work in highly sensitive roles.

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