What role will Norfolk play in Afghanistan's looming refugee crisis?

Questions are being asked over what role Norfolk will have to play in the looming Afghanistan refugee crisis

Questions are being asked over what role Norfolk will have to play in the looming Afghanistan refugee crisis - Credit: Gee Cook/Sara Nathan/Louise Heller/Ed Maxfield

Norfolk is gearing up to potentially play its part in hosting Afghan refugees, as tens of thousands of people try to escape Taliban rule. 

The extent to which the county may be asked to help is unclear, with further details of a national plan to be revealed in due course. 

Afghanistan has been overrun by the Taliban in recent weeks following Western military withdrawal.

The Islamist group did not face any opposition as it swept into capital city Kabul over the weekend.

Disturbing pictures have since emerged showing civilians making desperate attempts to flee, including by clinging onto planes. 

While the government is yet to confirm how many asylum seekers would be allowed in, foreign secretary Dominic Raab has called the UK a "safe haven".

Gee Cook, chief executive of Norwich-based charity New Routes Integration, which supports the wellbeing and ambitions of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, said Norfolk would be ready to assist.

Geo Cook, chief executive of Norwich-based charity New Routes Integration

Gee Cook, chief executive of Norwich-based charity New Routes Integration - Credit: Courtesy of Gee Cook

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"It looks already like hundreds of thousands are attempting to flee due to the huge risks to their personal safety," added Ms Cook.

"Like other organisations, we are urging the government to map out a direct route to settlement for Afghan people.

"There needs to be some clear direction from the Home Office because the situation is going to explode exponentially. There has to be something soon to say what they are going to do.

"We will be on hand to continue the fantastic historical approach that Norfolk and Norwich have had going back to the 16th century, when strangers arrived escaping persecution, and we will help people make the best of their new lives here."

Brits stuck in New Zealand are asking MPs, including foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, for help. Pict

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has called the UK a "safe haven" for those fleeing persecution - Credit: PA

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Raab revealed that a "bespoke arrangement" for refugees was being formulated.

It is thought the new settlement scheme will be similar to that which has been used to help Syrians flee conflict since 2014. 

Locally, Norfolk County Council has not declared its intentions, but Ed Maxfield, leader of the Independent Group, hoped to see pressure being put on central government. 

"There is a political leadership opportunity here to be putting pressure on the government to make sure it responds appropriately," said Mr Maxfield, who also works for Access Migrant Support.

Ed Maxfield, Independent candidate for Mundesley division.

Ed Maxfield, leader of the Independent Group at Norfolk County Council - Credit: Supplied by Ed Maxfield

"Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of the military strategy, what you are left with is a human crisis. 

"At the very least the council should be ready, well-resourced and welcoming - and saying 'we need to step in and address this.'"

As the world bears witness to the spiralling situation in Afghanistan, many people will be asking what they can actually do to help. 

Heather Stabler and her husband, who live off Earlham Road in Norwich, took in three refugees for varying periods of time when they were living in London. 

Heather Stabler and her husband, from Norwich, took in three refugees when they were living in London

Heather Stabler and her husband, from Norwich, took in three refugees when they were living in London - Credit: Louise Heller

The process was overseen by Refugees at Home, a national charity which connects people with a spare room to those seeking refuge.

"It was quite easy for us to do it given our personal circumstances," said Ms Stabler.

"At the time, a lot of the news stories very depressing. It was when quite a few asylum seekers were drowning, and I found people's negative attitudes very hard to read. 

"I am someone who is a 'do-er', so I thought to myself 'what can I do about this?'

Taliban fighters stand guard on the road to the Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghan

Taliban fighters stand guard on the road to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan - Credit: AP

"We don't really have any idea in this country of what it's like to live through the horrors that people in Afghanistan and Syria have been through. You cannot even imagine having to abandon your home."

Sara Nathan, trustee and co-founder of Refugees at Home, explained how the community can help.

"We have hosted in Norfolk before and would love to again," she said. "It allows you to meet all sorts of people and it is really life-affirming. 

"The demand for hosting is quite small compared to other places, but that may change with this crisis. 

Sara Nathan, trustee and co-founder of Refugees at Home, with the most recent asylum seeker she has looked after

Sara Nathan, trustee and co-founder of Refugees at Home, with the most recent asylum seeker she has looked after - Credit: Sara Nathan

"If you want to host, you are better off being in Norwich or a town with things like good transport. There is no point placing refugees in the countryside as they are terrified of standing out. 

"Otherwise, you can write to your MP to ask for people to be allowed in, sign petitions, or donate to groups like Médecins Sans Frontières."

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