Earlier this week I spent time with some of Oxford’s Afghan women and children, some of whom arrived in Oxford as refugees.
Their children were born in Oxford and attend nurseries and schools in the city. Like me, these children are Oxonians born and bred, the sons and daughters of parents who came to Oxford to build a safe future for their families.
The crisis in Afghanistan is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Women talked about their fear for the safety of family members. They described how women in their families are burning evidence they’ve received a university education for fear of reprisals. They’re worried especially about the girls in their families, whether they will be allowed to get an education. Men too are at risk, and families are separated as fathers, brothers, sons go into hiding. Anxiety, exhaustion, fear and stress is being felt by their relatives here in Oxford.
The crisis in Afghanistan is impacting people and communities in different ways. Veterans in Oxford and Oxfordshire and their families are feeling a number of different emotions too and their experiences are part of the story of how communities are impacted across our city and county. The unfolding tragedy of Afghanistan is a local story as much as it’s a national and international story.
This week the government has announced it wants to resettle 5,000 Afghans in the UK this year with 20,000 Afghans settled over the next five years. This is a woefully inadequate number that does not reflect the duty of care the UK has to Afghan civilians, to protect lives, or the military role Britain has played in Afghanistan.
As a city council, we are waiting on the government to provide details on how the Afghan Resettlement Scheme will be set up. We need to know what funding and resources are being put in place to support these refugees who will need housing, health, education and community so they can establish new lives here.
Oxford is a proud city of sanctuary, as a city we believe in upholding the rights of refugees and migrants and all communities. We are a multi-racial and diverse city. But the cost of living and especially the cost of housing is a huge barrier for everyone in our city and it’s a barrier preventing refugees from settling in the city.
The government needs to provide proper funding for refugees to be settled so they can live a life of dignity, potential and hope, alongside everyone else. The government must ensure proper healthcare, education, employment, and language support is also put in place too.
Today I will be attending a meeting, as the Cabinet Member for Inclusive Communities, called by Asylum Welcome, an organisation Oxford City Council supports. The meeting will bring together members of the Afghan community and Oxford’s diverse communities, faith groups, councillors, community groups and others together to discuss how we as a city can collectively show solidarity to the Afghan community and ensure we are doing everything possible to support people and communities across our city and county. We urgently need to the government providing details on how it will do the same.
Councillor Shaista Aziz, Cabinet Member for Inclusive Communities