Richmond area unlikely to take more refugees due to lack of NHS services

County Hall.

The Richmond area is unlikely to take more refugees due to the lack of NHS facilities in the area, councillors have been told.

A meeting of North Yorkshire Council’s corporate and partnerships scrutiny committee this week heard that Afghan families fleeing persecution from the Taliban after helping the British have been warned they face being evicted by the Home Office from the seaside hotel that the Government department placed them into.

Councillors were told the authority’s officers were planning “for the worst case scenario” where up to 90 people still living at the bridging hotel in Scarborough would become homeless on August 16.

Councillors said they were worried a load of the refugees would “present as  homeless” in the coming months after hearing the Home Office was determined to close all its controversial refugee bridging hotels before the end of October.

Officers told the committee in recent years refugees had been impacted by “a tunnel of chaos” and while poor countries surrounding the turmoil were still taking the majority of refugees, with nearly four million in Turkey alone, some councils had not taken any refugees.

The meeting in County Hall, Northallerton heard North Yorkshire was taking part in several different schemes to offer homes for refugees, including one in which well over a thousand Ukrainians had arrived in the county.

Although North Yorkshire’s councils had agreed to find homes for 200 people by 2024, the Home Office had put a hold on new cases coming through due to difficulties finding suitable accommodation.

The meeting heard North Yorkshire Council was awaiting awaiting ministerial sign off on taking more refugees, but market towns such as Malton and Richmond were not suitable for the refugees as some had significant medical needs and would be too remote from hospitals.

An officer added: “We constantly find problems in terms of the Home Office not paying us on time. Well, they have never paid us on time, but now it’s getting months and months and months before we get a payment.

“For example, we had some Afghan families arrive January 2022. We only got a first month’s instalment about three months ago. We’ve also got special educational needs and disability cases we can claim exceptional needs expenditure – we’ve been waiting over 12 months for that.

“The Home Office really have not geared up. They’ve not resourced up and of course there’s the other crises, the Afghan crisis, the Ukrainian crisis as well which they are now dealing with. But it does cause issues. If we didn’t have economies of scale there would be serious issues there.”

With the scheme to resettle Afghans facing persecution from the Taliban due to their involvement with the British embassy or Army, the use of hotels had been “far from ideal”, the meeting was told, but had been the only option as it had been an emergency evacuation.

The meeting heard there was Home Office funding to help new families out, providing incentives to landlords,  but there was not enough affordable private rented accommodation, particularly for large Afghan families of up to 13.

In addition, officers said despite the volunteer support for the families in the county being “second to none” there was an “unwillingless” among some Afghan families to live in North Yorkshire, as there were established Afghan communities in cities like Leeds and Manchester, which were already running at capacity for taking refugees.

An officer said many of the Afghan families had been under the impression they would have lots of choices about where they were going to live, but in reality they were offered two properties, and told if they did not accept one they would face eviction from the hotel within 56 days. However, no evictions have taken place.

The meeting heard the council was waiting to hear from Government about what its evictions policy towards the refugees, that the Home Office had already stated it would implement evictions this time and about concerns some people might choose to squat at the hotel.

One officer told the meeting the council’s housing team had given “quite a blunt presentation” at the hotel about homelessness, which came as a shock to the Afghan families.

He added: “I don’t think the Home Office have been clear enough about the implications. The [eviction] letter that families got sent wasn’t translated. It was very legalistic, I kept on having to read it myself.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Financial support for North Yorkshire is managed on behalf of the Home Office by Migration Yorkshire, a local authority-led partnership which works across the whole of the Yorkshire and Humber region.

“There has been no delay on the part of the Home Office to release these funds and we will be contacting Migration Yorkshire to check that all financial support for the local authority has been delivered.”