'Complete chaos’: Leader slams government's Afghan refugee programme

Mayor of Redbridge Cllr Roy Emmett and council leader Cllr Jas Athwal with volunteers from Salvation Army Ilford

Mayor of Redbridge Cllr Roy Emmett and council leader Cllr Jas Athwal with volunteers from Ilford Salvation Army - Credit: Daniel Gayne

The government’s handling of the Afghan refugee resettlement programme was “complete chaos”. 

That is the message from Redbridge Council leader Jas Athwal, who says local government was left in the dark over long-term plans for the refugees - 900 of whom are currently staying in temporary accommodation in the borough. 

He told the Recorder: “There was no plan, there still is no plan, and local councils have been left just to fend for themselves. 

“We need to see that they get housed and properly looked after.” 

The government said there was a “huge effort” underway to house refugees permanently in the “biggest and fastest emergency evacuation in recent history”. 

The council leader’s comments came on Wednesday, the day before the closure of the refugee donation drop-off centre, which has been in Redbridge Town Hall for the past six weeks

Cllr Athwal described the centre as a “tremendous success” and praised the “big hearts” of the Redbridge public.  

“At this time of economic misery in the UK, these people are reaching into their pockets and helping fellow humans,” he added. 

At the last count of September 30, the centre had received 34 pushchairs, 43 baby baths, 18 sterilising units, 359 baby bottle packs, more than 780 headscarves, 60 suitcases, holdalls and bags, and 50 Qurans. 

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Cllr Athwal predicted this tally had doubled by now. 

“What we really wanted to do was to kickstart the help programme and that’s what we’ve done.  

“The idea was that government would then start putting the residents in their permanent, final place where they were going to reside.” 

He said there was little the council could do to speed up the process as the resettlement was a national programme.  

“We are in the hands of the Home Office,” he added.  

A spokesperson for the government said it had undertaken the UK’s “biggest and fastest emergency evacuation in recent history”. 

They said: “There is now a huge effort underway to get families into permanent homes so they can settle and rebuild their lives, and to ensure those temporarily accommodated in hotels have access to healthcare, education, any essential items they need and employment opportunities or universal credit. 

“The ongoing role of local authorities is vital to these efforts and we are grateful for their continued offers of support and housing.”