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Afghan refugees? We've nowhere to put them says Torbay

Wednesday, 18 August 2021 18:47

By Joe Ives, local democracy reporter

No refuge for Afghans in Torbay (courtesy: Ed Oldfield/ LDRS)

"Perfect storm" for accommodation demand

Torbay Council will not take in any refugees from Afghanistan, the council leader has announced, causing a rift between the Lib Dem leadership and the Bay’s Conservative MP who has told him to “get a grip.”

Leader of governing Lib Dem and Independent coalition Steve Darling (Liberal Democrats, Barton with Watcombe) blamed the housing crisis in Torbay for the decision, saying that the council had no choice and is unable to meet the housing needs of residents as it is.

The announcement follows urgent calls from the government to councils across the country asking them to provide homes for up to 20,000 Afghans in need of sanctuary.

Cllr Darling said the situation in Afghanistan was “mortifying”, but added: “We’re having real massive challenges to support our own people let alone Afghan refugees.”

“I don’t think people realise how much of the perfect storm we’ve got in Torbay. We’re in a crisis situation with our own people.”

Cllr Darling says the situation is so dire that the council has been forced to make housing offers to people in places far away from the Bay in places such as Bath, Weston-super-Mare and Glastonbury.

Last week the council leader sent a letter to the government’s housing minister in which he outlined the “perfect storm” facing Torbay’s housing stock and asked for help in finding more rental accommodation. He said the crisis had been exasperated by an increase in AirBnB purchases and the rise of remote working causing people to move to pleasant areas such as the Bay - the most desperate result of this being the almost 150 households currently in temporary accommodation. 

Cllr Darling says that Torbay’s lack of ethnic diversity would complicate matters further, meaning that refugees would not have a sufficient support network once they arrived, arguing that without this the council would be “potentially setting them up to fail.”

“Even if we did have accommodation we’d still be facing challenges compared to other ethically diverse parts of the UK.”

Torbay MP Kevin Foster (Conservative) has hit out at the council’s decision: “No one’s expecting an area like Torbay to make the commitment of a large city, but to set the level at zero is very disappointing.” 

“There are people who shared the dangers with our forces and supported our mission who now face extreme danger if they remain in Afghanistan and we all need to make a contribution towards this.”

Mr Foster said that Steve Darling needed to “get a grip on what he can do as leader of the council” in terms of meeting the housing need of people in Torbay. 

Mr Foster added that many of the refugees coming from Afghanistan would be highly skilled and employable, and therefore be unlikely to create a strain on councils in the long term. 

He also argued that the number of households that Torbay would have to offer refugees would be very low if it had responded to the government’s request.

According to statistics from Devon Home Choice, the council’s social housing platform, more than 1.400 households were in housing need in Torbay as of last month, up from 1,157 in 2019.

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