Majority of Afghan refugees coming to Somerset will be children, county council confirms
By Tim Lethaby
10th Sep 2021 | Local News
The majority of Afghan refugees being accepted by Somerset over the next few months will be young children, the county council has confirmed.
Somerset County Council is part of the government's Afghanistan citizens' resettlement scheme, which will see 5,000 Afghan nationals resettled in its first year and up to 20,000 in the longer term.
While the precise number who will be resettled in Somerset has not yet been confirmed, the council has said that priority will be given to younger people, in line with the overall aim of the scheme.
It also said that rural areas could play a vital role in rehoming refugees, rather than relying on urban settlements in line with previous resettlement initiatives.
Under the scheme, priority is being given to "women and girls, and religious and other minorities, who are most at risk of human rights abuses and dehumanising treatment by the Taliban".
Simon Clifford, the council's director of corporate affairs, gave a more detailed update at a meeting of the council's children and families scrutiny committee in Taunton yesterday morning (September 9).
He said: "The majority of the refugees will be children of pre-school and primary age.
"Somerset has always been very proactive in this field, and we are working hard to find the appropriate housing to provide accommodation for those who need it most.
"The great advantage at the moment is that the people coming in are interpreters or translators, so at least one member of the family will speak good English. That allows us to be more flexible, housing people outside our major towns."
Contrary to popular belief, local authorities are not given a fixed number of refugees to rehome by the government and then forced to find them suitable accommodation.
Instead, the relevant councils source homes offered by private landlords and then a family is allocated the property – meaning the exact numbers being accepted by Somerset are "a moveable feast".
Mr Clifford said: "We have a tremendous track record with private landlords releasing their properties.
"I would like to thank the generosity of residents and businesses in Somerset, who have already come up trumps – as we knew they would."
Brittney Strange, the council's resettlement officer, said that lessons had been learned from the Syrian refugee crisis to ensure that children and families who would be coming to Somerset would be able to integrate successfully.
She said: "Learning from the Syrian refugee crisis, it is quite important to look at properties which are offered to us and to think about things like places of worship, whether they can access facilities to meet dietary requirements and other amenities.
"A lot of time has been spent working on how we respond to and co-ordinate offers of housing. We're carrying out initial assessments on a number of properties, working with the district councils' housing teams.
"We hope we can place the first family in the county in the next few weeks. There will be 12 months of support.
"We will work with families to help them access statutory services – including nursery and school places, registering with GPs, opticians and dentists, registering with the Department for Work and Pensions where appropriate and helping them look for jobs. Empowerment is essential to what we do."
For more information on the Afghanistan citizens' resettlement scheme in Somerset – including how you can offer help and support – visit www.somerset.gov.uk/refugee-resettlement.