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.
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.
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 coordination committee.
“It’s not moving at the pace Fife would really like it to do.
“Although we’ve made housing provision available to the Home Office to allocate properties, it still hasn’t resulted in any allocation to these families.
“Families are moving on to other parts of the UK and other parts of Scotland, but it is at a very slow pace.
“So that’s part of our difficulty – trying to manage and deliver support to these families in the hotel.
“We need to get things speeded up.”
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 ten 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, cllr 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.”
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.
“I think Fife Council would want to make sure that the Home Office and MOD are aware of our concerns about the slow processing, if you want to call it that, and the moving on to more suitable accommodation for our adults and children which is absolutely required.
“I don’t think that you or I would like to stay in a hotel for some months.”
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.”
Due to the crisis with the Taliban seizing power, thousands of people were desperate to leave Afghanistan.
The UK Government announced that it would accept 20,000 refugees over a four-year period, with 5000 in the first year.
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.”
By local democracy reporter Craig Smith