Local government working together to help refugees

It is said that the greatest curse of the Chinese philosopher, Confucius, was to say to his enemies, “may you live in interesting times”. This is pretty much what 2021 so far feels like to a British citizen today.

Paul Arnott www.sidmouthherald.co.uk 

Understandably, we don’t like to wear a hair shirt every day, but when this year comes to be summarised on New Year’s Eve it will be impossible for commentators not to note the withdrawal of the British from Afghanistan, or the manifest lack of preparation the Conservative government had made to protect the lives and interests of those Afghans who had fought against the Taliban insurgency alongside us.

Boris Johnson will hope that with the sacrifice of the now ex-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, political patron of East Devon’s MP Simon Jupp, the story can “move on”. Mistakes made, lessons learned, and all that old flannel.

This cold attitude, thank heavens, does not take into account the innate sense of justice and kindness present in many millions of British people, who do not judge everything by its price or what a series of actions can do for them. As testimony to this, since the chaotic departure from Kabul, I have been inundated with offers from good people to provide homes for refugees. And this is where the cynical Confucius got it wrong; it’s not about being cursed by having to live in “interesting times” but how individually and collectively we respond to them.

For that reason, I feel the people of Exmouth and East Devon should take great pride that last weekend Exmouth received 60 Afghan refugees – on a temporary basis it is important to add – who are now lodged in a hotel booked by central government. This is one part of government making up for the selfish idiocy of another, and is to be welcomed.

The refugees are 60 people in 12 family groups. There are 28 children under 12, with 37 under 18. There are quite a few young parents, and none are older than 57. There is one disabled child, and fortunately there are eight fluent English speakers who have volunteered to translate. Of the total, six families already have close links to families in the UK and this will have implications for resettlement when offering more permanent accommodation.

So far, local people – bar the usual keyboard warrior best left in their own shavings – have been nothing but welcoming. And in particular here I would like to fly the flag for local government, which in this case has been a magnificent and multi-agency response including Devon County Council, East Devon District Council and Exmouth Town Council. All these are democratically elected authorities, and you pay for them through various chunks of your annual council tax.

They have risen to the occasion and I can report to you that they have responded with extraordinary speed. Matters like this are profoundly complex. We need to think of clothing, medical help, a small amount of financial assistance, catering, and child welfare – just some of the many matters which need daily attention.

And then there is the further assessment of need, and where these people would like to live. As I said above, some already have connections in the UK, and all previous examples of this kind of inward migration prove that such refugees go on to be productive, tax-paying members of the local communities. I have no doubt that from a local government, national health and policing perspective all that can conceivably be done is being done now.

Yet we all know that at times of fear like this for these unfortunate Afghan people the hand of friendship means as much as material help, and so I applaud Exmouth mayor, Cllr Steve Gazzard, and

other local councillors like Eileen Wragg and Joe Whibley who have got themselves down to the hotel as fast as possible and uttered that crucial word: WELCOME.