Why Britain must offer heartfelt welcome to refugees from Afghanistan - Bird Lovegod

Like most people watching the situation unfold in Afghanistan, I feel moved to consider what can be done.

A RAF Voyager aircraft carrying members of the British armed forces 16 Air Assault Brigade arrives at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, as they return from helping in operations to evacuate people from Kabul airport in Afghanistan.

Obviously, it’s a dire scenario, the vacuum created by the US departure is immediately filled to overflowing with Taliban and Isis who are already murdering themselves, civilians, troops, each other, and anyone else who happens to be within their radius of malign influence.

What can we do? Pray. What else?

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It was nice to see Airbnb offering free temporary housing to 20,000 Afghan refugees. I would expect almost all of these placements, if any actually happen, to be in the US. Here in the UK we can soon expect upwards of 10,000 official refugees from Afghanistan, plus many more who unofficially make their own way here in the coming months and years.

Where they will be housed, medium and long term, is still undecided. There are charities that enable a ‘Refugee BnB’ type of system, the longest running one, RoomForRefugees.com, was started in Scotland nearly 20 years ago.

There’s also Refugees at home.org who provide a similar service. Both have many thousands of people registered as hosts, and they provide high levels of support before, during, and after the hosting period. From what I’ve learned from their respective websites, it’s a very well-managed and supported process. Which it needs to be.

Which makes me think that AirBnB’s offer, well-intentioned as it may be, and excellent PR that it is, isn’t really an appropriate solution. People fleeing murderous regimes have a different set of care criteria than your average AirBnB visitor enjoying a weekend break.

There’s specialist support required, for hosts, and guests, for the reassurance and safety of both, it’s not a straightforward marketplace that can be managed through an app. It’s a people thing, a care thing, a human thing. And whilst technology can to some degree facilitate care and support, it absolutely cannot replace it. At the end of the day, it’s always going to come down to people supporting people, or not supporting people, whichever the case may be.

There’s almost certainly sufficient willing hosts in the UK to house 10,000 refugees and more. And yet, it’s complicated. Many are families, having been evacuated together, and of course they can’t be separated.

It seems the demand, in terms of hosts, is certainly there, and the supply is there, in terms of refugees needing housing. There’s support services provided through these charities, and they’ve had thousands of days and nights of experience.

The situation may change, but from what I’ve understood, the Government doesn’t recognise these solutions as options.

They may be concerned about the ‘what ifs’ of housing people within communities in this way, it probably feels rather ‘hands off’ to them, and not under central control as they mistakenly prefer to run things, or perhaps it just doesn’t fit with whatever structures they have in place.

I don’t know. But one thing is certain, the refugees will keep coming, from Afghanistan, and from many other places, and as climate change escalates the situation is only going to get more urgent.

There’s a cascade of humanitarian crises already happening and more in the pipeline, and it’s reassuring to know that people are willing and able to support one another.

And our Government could do a lot worse than enabling these specialist charitable services to run this solution as part of a generous and heartfelt humanitarian response from the ordinary people of the UK.

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