The events unfolding within Afghanistan have quite rightly been dominating the recent news headlines and I am sure I speak for everyone in Swindon when I say that our thoughts are with all those affected and their families.
The TV pictures coming out of the country are really upsetting, but I know the British ambassador and Home Office officials are working tirelessly in Kabul to get as many people as they can out of Afghanistan safely.
Our town is already home to many Afghan nationals and our partners at The Harbour Project, who do such a fantastic job in welcoming and supporting refugees and asylum seekers in Swindon, have already been in touch with me to say that many of the people they currently help are concerned for their loves ones’ safety.
I would like to take this opportunity to assure them that here in Swindon we will be doing everything we can to support those seeking refuge in our country.
I am pleased the Government has pledged to welcome 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan and we are keen to join the resettlement programme that will provide new lives for those people fleeing their homeland.
It was also really heartening to hear that the Government will be making funding available for the programme and is keen to work with local councils on finding Afghans new homes within the UK.
I am incredibly proud of Swindon’s racial diversity and we have always extended a warm welcome to those seeking asylum and refuge.
Many readers may not be aware, but Swindon is one of only five places in the South West that are part of the National Asylum Seeker Dispersal Programme along with Bristol, Cheltenham, Gloucester and Plymouth. This means we take in and look after refugees throughout the year.
In June, 62 people from a range of different countries were temporarily housed in the South West through the dispersal programme and 29 of those were found sanctuary here in our town, including three people from Afghanistan. Those seeking refuge come to Swindon while their applications for asylum are considered by the Home Office.
It is my intention to write to the Prime Minister to pledge Swindon’s continued support for the people of Afghanistan and for the national resettlement programme.
A motion formally setting out that commitment will be discussed at the next Full Council meeting and I am sure it will receive widespread support from fellow councillors across the Chamber, who I know are equally as concerned as me about the situation in Afghanistan.
This is a time when we all need to pull together to help those who desperately need our help. Swindon will always welcome all those who are fleeing persecution with open arms. It is the very least we can do.