Community responds brilliantly to Afghan refugee crisis

British nationals and Afghan evacuees depart a flight from Afghanistan.

British nationals and Afghan evacuees depart a flight from Afghanistan at RAF Brize Norton on August 26. - Credit: PA

In the first of my weekly columns for this title last month, I referred with pride to the fact that East Devon District Council had committed in principle to provide safe accommodation for Afghan refugees.

At the same time as doing that, I issued a warning to the Conservative government and my own administration at EDDC that our generosity to people who have suffered unimaginable trauma and have supported our servicemen and women in Afghanistan should not in any way lead to local people being less likely to access the affordable housing they need and deserve.

If there wasn't a national housing crisis, I do not believe people would be so afraid. We as a country have a moral duty to ensure our own citizens live in secure homes. But we also have a moral duty to help the Afghan refugees. After all, it was the UK that joined the US invasion a decade ago. Our botched exit came as former Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab refused to cut short his holiday in Crete to address the urgent situation.

No long-term housing has yet been offered to the 15 Afghan families who are currently staying in one of our seafront hotels. All three councils serving the area - town, district and county - received only 24 hours notice from the Home Office that the refugees would be arriving.

Exmouth community groups have since responded brilliantly to the fast-moving situation and ensured that families are made welcome, with local people extremely generous with donations. The positive response comes as no surprise to more experienced Exmouthians who informed me of how the town stepped up to offer refuge to the Vietnamese boat people in 1980, following a war that Britain didn’t even instigate.

With the Taliban having proven they’ve not changed - following reports of summary executions and an assault on women’s freedoms - the refugees will need longer-term accommodation in the UK. Each part of the country ought to play its part in this humanitarian effort. In recent history, the voluntary system in which local authorities can decide whether or not they will provide long-term accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers has been exposed as grossly unfair.

While some local authorities like EDDC are part of the voluntary scheme, other areas refuse to provide any longer-term accommodation. In Germany, there is a much fairer system where refugees and asylum seekers are accommodated across their territory according to a formula which has regard to factors like housing need as well as a local area’s relative affluence and proximity to services and jobs - all of which will help refugees integrate into our society. I think our system would benefit from being reformed along those lines.

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As the Leader of EDDC wrote in his column last week, most refugees become valued, economically productive members of our local communities. This includes the former foster son of one of my colleagues Cllr Joe Whibley, a boy who quite literally fell off of the back of a lorry after escaping war-torn Afghanistan over a decade ago. We should never forget the sacrifice many of these refugees have made for our freedom, so often supporting the efforts of our armed forces.

Onto other pertinent issues facing Exmouth, there is the consultation on public toilets, with its deadline loo-ming on 1st October. All details can be found on the EDDC website. If you cannot be bothered with a written consultation document that I appreciate may seem tedious, please get in touch with me and I’ll raise your comments at the council’s Overview Committee, the meeting in which Exmouth’s public toilets will next be considered.

On a final note, I was most amused to see my column last week printed directly below the now infamous photograph of local MP Simon Jupp enjoying a pint with former Cabinet Minister Robert Jenrick who was sacked on the day the issue hit news stands. We will examine their pre-election pledge for investment in Exmouth next week.

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