Afghanistan crisis: Manchester political leaders call for complete overhaul of asylum system
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As refugees fleeing the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan continue to arrive in the UK, Greater Manchester’s political leaders say a “complete overhaul” of the asylum system is needed.
Manchester has shown an extraordinary outpouring of generosity towards those starting a new life here, with tens of thousands of pounds and a mountain of essential items such as shoes, clothing and toiletries donated.
But politicians including the city-region’s elected first citizen Andy Burnham and council leaders say less well-off areas, including parts of Greater Manchester, are taking far more refugees than areas with more expensive housing costs. Manchester World has requested figures for how many refugees Greater Manchester expects to take this year.
The local leaders are also demanding the Government steps up more to ensure local authorities are not dealing with resettling Afghan refugees on their own.
What has prompted the latest call?
The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) issued a statement on Friday afternoon from Mr Burnham, deputy mayors Baroness Beverley Hughes and Sir Richard Leese and nine of the city-region’s 10 council leaders.
They spoke of their horror at the way the hardline Islamist group has taken control of Afghanistan and spoke of Greater Manchester’s proud record of supporting those fleeing for their lives from war and persecution.
They said it was entirely right that Britain plays its part to help those desperate to leave Afghanistan, especially those who have helped or worked with foreign countries there.
However, they also pointed out that the city-region has taken in a large number of asylum seekers in the last few years.
The statement said: “We were all appalled as the events unfolded in Afghanistan. The humanitarian crisis continues and the scale of it requires all of us to play our part in helping those who had to flee their country and be prepared to help others as they arrive.
“We recognise that many of those leaving have provided help to our military and that they, and others, are in fear for their lives if they remain.
“We are clear that the Government is right to help people leave Afghanistan and to help them rebuild their lives here.
“In Greater Manchester we have a proud history of helping those fleeing persecution. Indeed, Greater Manchester has accommodated more asylum seekers and refugees over many years than other parts of the country.
“We are committed to helping those arriving from Afghanistan, as we have been doing since 2015.”
What changes do they want?
The statement proposes a number of measures to ensure the way asylum seekers and refugees are allocated to local authorities around the country is fair, rather than some places having to take most of those fleeing because houses are cheaper there.
The region’s political leaders said town halls also need more financial support.
The statement said: ”It is clear that the whole asylum system is in need of a complete overhaul to make it fairer to those arriving in the UK and to the communities in which they live.
“Firstly, every part of the country needs to take a share of the responsibility across all schemes, asylum and resettlement.
“It cannot be fair that some of the poorest areas of the country, including parts of Greater Manchester, accommodate far higher numbers of those seeking sanctuary, because of lower housing costs, than other parts of the UK.
“It is not fair to those fleeing persecution or the communities in which they are placed.
“Secondly, under the current asylum system those councils who have disproportionately been affected over the past 20 years do not receive the funding to provide the necessary support for the individuals or the communities in which they are housed.
“So, all placements need to be supported with equal, long-term funding and a resettlement strategy that recognises that support for health, education and a smooth transition to a new life are needed over a period of time.
“We will continue to welcome asylum seekers and refugees to Greater Manchester and we are already playing our part in supporting those coming from Afghanistan during the current crisis.
“But we do need the rest of the country to do their bit too, and we call on the Government to ensure fairness is at the heart of the system.”
A long-term effort
The statement also urged the Government to recognise that the initial flow of people leaving Afghanistan is not the end of the crisis in the country.
It said ministers need to make preparations now for dealing with refugees and asylum seekers from Afghanistan in the coming months and years.
The statement said: “We would urge the immigration minister to mandate the widening of dispersal to ensure every local authority plays their part, not just in supporting those already evacuated from Afghanistan, but all those seeking sanctuary in the future.
“This is an international humanitarian crisis requiring a national medium- to long-term response.
“The Government urgently needs to provide a single point of contact to provide information and support, as well as receiving feedback.
“The disbursement and allocations cannot be left to local areas alone.”
What is the Government doing about refugees?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently appointed MP Victoria Atkins as the minister for Afghan resettlement.
Mr Johnson has previously said: “I am determined we welcome them with open arms and put in place the support they need to rebuild their lives.
“For those who have left their homes with no more than a small bag of belongings coming to the UK will have been a daunting experience, but also one of hope.”