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Community / Isles should be ready to take part in Afghan resettlement scheme, councillor says

SHETLAND must be ready and able to offer support, refuge and asylum for citizens fleeing Afghanistan, according to a senior councillor.

Ryan Thomson said he has written to Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael on the issue.

Shetland Islands Council convener Malcolm Bell said he has “no doubt” the local authority and the community will wish to assist.

It comes as the Taliban took back control of Afghanistan after the government – which had been supported by western countries – collapsed.

Scores of people have sought to flee the country, leading to chaotic and tragic scenes at Kabul Airport.

The government has now confirmed that the UK will resettle up to 20,000 Afghan refugees over five years.

Councillor Ryan Thomson.

This will see 5,000 people eligible in the first year.

It is likely to be similar to the resettlement scheme for people affected by the Syrian civil war, which saw two families move to Shetland a few years ago.

Thomson, speaking in a personal capacity, said the isles should be ready to take part in the new scheme.

“We all watch in horror and disbelief the evolving humanitarian crisis which is developing in Afghanistan,” he said.

“Innocent children and families fleeing for their lives which could be the biggest humanitarian disaster in our lifetimes.

“We must prepare, and we must be ready to act. The UK, Scotland, and Shetland must be ready and able to offer support, refuge and asylum for the citizens fleeing the terrorist organisation.

“The alternative is to live in a barbaric state led by a terrorist organisation who treat women with contempt and show nothing but hostility to the democratic views we hold true in the West.”

Convener Bell said: “The UK Government hasn’t yet announced details of any scheme to deal with the developing humanitarian crises in Afghanistan.

“When it is announced the devolved governments and local authorities will likely be expected to deliver it in much the same manner as the recent Syrian refugee scheme.

“I have no doubt that Shetland Islands Council and our community will wish to assist just as we have done in the past.”

UK prime minister Boris Johnson, meanwhile, said: “We owe a debt of gratitude to all those who have worked with us to make Afghanistan a better place over the last twenty years.

“Many of them, particularly women, are now in urgent need of our help. I am proud that the UK has been able to put in place this route to help them and their families live safely in the UK.”

The government said “strict security checks” would take place around people arriving in the UK through the scheme.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government is “ready to play a full part” in the scheme.

But Thomson has echoed the views of opposition parties by saying he feels the scheme does not go far enough when it comes to numbers.

“The UK Government have acknowledged that we owe a serious debt of gratitude to all those who have worked with and helped the UK over the last 20 years, and are now in urgent need of our help,” he said.

“To then suggest that we look at housing around 20,000 refugees over five years shows a woefully inadequate grasp of the seriousness of the immediate catastrophe which will result in needless deaths of the people who have helped us most.

“Everyone has the right to flee violence, disaster and persecution no matter where they are in the world.”

Shetland’s participation in the Syrian resettlement scheme saw the council buy two homes, which were added to the local authority’s housing stock.

Speaking in relation to finding housing, Thomson said: “Shetland is famous all across the world for offering refuge for anyone.

“These are people, who through no fault of their own, are caught up in an unimaginable situation.  If, god forbid, we ever found ourselves in a similar situation.

“There are huge housing projects on the horizon in Shetland. The construction industry can be a major part of the recovery from Covid, if the government recognises its significance and importance.”