Fife Council slams 'slow' UK Government as Afghan refugees stuck in Fife hotel for five months

A Fife housing chief has slammed a national scheme to resettle Afghans as “glacially slow” after it emerged several families who fled the war-torn country remain stuck in a local hotel.

By Craig Smith, Local Democracy Reporter
Friday, 21st January 2022, 12:27 pm
Many Afghan refugees are still stuck in hotel accommodation.
Many Afghan refugees are still stuck in hotel accommodation.

John Mills, head of housing at Fife Council, made the comment as the local authority considers the implications of a Home Office decision to move to a mandatory – instead of voluntary – scheme for the dispersal of asylum seekers to all parts of the UK following a huge influx in the south east of England.

But while Fife’s participation in the voluntary scheme means the change is likely to have a lesser effect on the council than some others, Mr Mills confirmed a number of Afghan nationals have remained in a so-called ‘bridging’ hotel since the end of August – with little sign of them being moved to other accommodation.

Exactly how many people are in that position has not been made public, but Fife initially housed 86 refugees when the first groups started arriving into Scotland.

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Liberal Democrat group leader Councillor Tim Brett described the situation as a “scandal”, and Fife’s co-leaders David Ross and David Alexander are to write to Home Secretary Priti Patel as a matter of urgency.

“We have a holding provision and I’m not wanting to be overly critical here but I think in terms of the speed of which things are happening, I could describe it as glacially slow,” Mr Mills told councillors on the policy and co-ordination committee.

“It’s not moving at the pace Fife would really like it to do.”

The resettlement scheme is under the auspices of the Home Office, but Fife Council is providing wrap-around support.

Mr Mills added that the council remains in talks with the Ministry of Defence (MOD) over the latter’s offer to provide 10 former military properties at Leuchars on a five-year lease to Fife Council to temporarily accommodate Afghan families, while the local authority is also keen to buy a further seven properties at the former air base.

Shocked at the delays seen, Mr Brett noted: “It can’t be good for families just to be sitting in a hotel without other facilities that they would otherwise have.

“I begin to think this is a bit of a scandal because they’ve been there for months.”

To which Mr Mills replied: “Representations have been made through COSLA to the Home Office to try and get this process speeded up but I’m afraid I can’t report any progress.”

SNP councillor John Beare said he hoped the council could get some answers but described the process as like “shouting into the wind”.

“The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme was announced on August 18 and we’ve had no details – and I mean no details – until January 6,” he said.

“And even those are themselves are pretty appalling.”

A UK government spokesperson said: “The UK’s biggest and fastest emergency evacuation in recent history helped bring over 15,000 people from Afghanistan to safety in the UK.

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