13 Oct 2021

Welcoming Afghan refugees – business as usual for Glasgow

Whilst the Afghan situation made the headlines for obvious reasons in August, what it meant for Glasgow was speeding up a process which had already begun around June. Relatively quietly and without fuss, around 60 Afghan households had already been housed here through the early summer.

Glasgow and other councils have been in regular contact with the Home Office for over a year over the Afghanistan situation, and until everything changed in August, the expectation had been for a steady programme of resettling refugees over a 2-3 year period. This will now happen more quickly and at a much greater scale, but Glasgow will manage as it has done in the past.

As always, thoughts are with people and their families experiencing the trauma of their physical and emotional journey, with a difficult enough process added to by the need to be put up in COVID-19 quarantine hotels before moving on to holding hotels, mostly in England.

Throw in the journey to Scotland, and you can see why councils, housing associations and others want to work in partnership to try to see that resettlement goes as smoothly as possible once people arrive – ideally going straight into a home that the city council’s Refugee Team has prepared for occupation.

I’m not sure how things work elsewhere, but in Glasgow, where there’s no council housing, housing associations make a short-term lease of a property to the council, who then manage the void and the first few months of the refugee household’s life there. UK government funding can cover the rent the council pays to the association, part of which will inevitably be a void period ahead of matching someone to it and making the home ready.

Eligibility for benefit is not at issue, but sorting out claims with DWP is taking longer than is ideal. Rent is covered up to the point where someone's benefits/employment and wider support/integration needs have been sorted, usually within around 4-5 months, and then the tenancy can hopefully be ‘flipped’ to become a mainstream tenancy with the housing association.

The fact that we’re used to doing this in Glasgow isn’t to underplay the challenges. In the lead-up to the new year in April, Glasgow was asking associations to make 60% of its lets available to homeless households. That puts a real squeeze on other lets, most obviously to people on the housing list, whose circumstances have already been exacerbated by COVID delays. The refugee situation is a further squeeze, albeit clearly an urgent priority.

An ongoing challenge is how to manage expectations in terms of where people might want to live. On the one hand there’ll be parts of the city which have proved popular and where a reasonable concentration of refugees can make for greater mutual support as well as easier targeting of council and voluntary sector integration resources.

On the other hand, ideally new resettlement initiatives would be a chance to support moves into other parts of the city which can then, in turn, become just as popular.

And you can arguably say the same of Scotland as a whole. Glasgow prides itself in welcoming people who have been through so much, but it’s always encouraging if we also see other council areas making a proportionate contribution.

If we can all work effectively together on this, we’re putting in place the minimum people need to restart a life and – hopefully before too long – be able to thrive and feel genuinely at home here.

For more on the housing entitlements of Afghan evacuees, and about the support available to local authorities and housing associations to help them, go to the What’s New page of CIH’s Housing Rights website.

Written by David Bookbinder

David Bookbinder is director of Glasgow & West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations.