Councils must do more to house 13,000 Afghan refugees still in hotels, Ben Wallace demands

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has claimed “a lot of local authorities’ words has not been matched by action” on housing Afghan refugees, after a Yorkshire MP highlighted that thousands remain living in hotels.

Labour MP for York Central Rachael Maskell said 13,000 Afghan refugees “are languishing in hotels, not exactly a warm welcome”.

She asked the Defence Secretary how he is deploying the defence estate and Annington Homes, which specialises in converting Ministry of Defence housing into use for the general public, “to ensure we home these refugees”.

Mr Wallace said it was a “very important point”, adding that MPs should be raising the issue with their local councils.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has urged MPs to speak to their local councils about housing more refugees from Afghanistan.

“I would ask all members of this House to reach out to their local authorities because a lot of local authorities’ words has not been matched by action,” he said.

“I’ve made available nearly 500 married quarters to those individuals.”

He said “very few local authorities were prepared to take up those available married quarters” for refugees.

He added: “I think it’s important that we all get the local authorities to pull together alongside the rest of the Government.”

Earlier in the Parliamentary session on questions for the Ministry of Defence, Minister James Heappey said the UK was “very grateful” for the help of Pakistan in supporting the relocation of British nationals and vulnerable Afghans from Afghanistan, which is now controlled by the Taliban.

He revealed that over 2,000 more people have come to the UK since the end of Operation Pitting in August, which saw around 15,000 airlifted to safety out of Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover.

Mr Heappey said: “We continue to work with partners in the region to facilitate the exit of more through more routes.”

Conservative MP Julian Lewis said: “Given the unhealthy closeness of ties between parts of the Pakistani state and the Taliban, what assurances and what assistance will the Minister give to Afghans in hiding in Pakistan who may have been issued with UK visas that they will not be deported back to Afghanistan by the Pakistani authorities when they present themselves at an airport instead of being permitted to fly to the United Kingdom?”

Mr Heappey replied: “We are flirting with operational detail that may be best kept private but he should know that everybody who has arrived in Pakistan with the correct paperwork has been facilitated by the British High Commission to successfully leave the country.

“The challenge is for those who do not have papers and that is a very live conversation not just with our friends in Islamabad but our friends in other capitals around the region as well.”

Fellow Defence Minister Jeremy Quin also told Parliament that Mr Wallace will give evidence to a Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into Operation Pitting in two weeks.

SNP MP Stuart McDonald said the “damning evidence” received by that committee already “makes a full independent public inquiry all the more important not less”.

“Tens of thousands dead, millions facing humanitarian disaster, democracy and human rights in tatters and many billions of pounds spent – if that doesn’t merit a full comprehensive independent public inquiry, what on earth does?”

Mr Heappey said the question would be better addressed to a future session of Foreign Affairs questions.

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