PEOPLE who fleeing Taliban rule in Afghanistan will be welcomed to the Wee County.

Elected representatives at Clackmannanshire Council united their voices at a special meeting last Friday, September 24, to widen the local authority's commitment to refugee resettlement schemes.

The meeting came after councils were asked to take part in the Home Office's Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) and the existing Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy.

ACRS will welcome people who assisted the UK's efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for values such as democracy, women's rights, freedom of speech and the rule of law.

The scheme will also support vulnerable people, including women and girls at risk, those from minority groups such as ethnic and religious minorities and those in the LGBT+ community.

Speaking at the meeting last Friday, council leader Councillor Ellen Forson said: “The meeting was called following a request for an urgent response from the UK Government to their call-out for local authorities to accept Afghan refugees, primarily first those who have been assisting the UK forces whilst based in Afghanistan who are now, actually, fleeing for their life.”

She added: “They come from a country where they probably own their own home and they've had careers.

“By definition the people fleeing the Taliban regime are usually those who are most educated, are usually women who do not fit into the Taliban's definition of what a woman should be.”

Since 2015, 24 Syrian families have been successfully welcomed to the Wee County.

Indeed, three Alloa town centre businesses are run by Syrian families, enriching life in Clackmannanshire, as Cllr Craig Holden explained at the meeting.

He said: “We have a moral obligation as human beings to support refugees and the UK also has a legal obligation to do so.

“Clackmannanshire will play its part, we do so willingly and we do so with compassion.

“Clackmannanshire has a proud history of welcoming refugees, having played a significant role amongst Scotland's councils as part of the Syrian refugee resettlement programme and our participation in that programme, I believe, has enriched our community.

“I have no doubt that our role in the Afghan resettlement scheme will also enrich our community.”

The council had already committed to resettling a further 20 households over a five year period under the wider UK Resettlement Scheme.

The number of families arriving will not change, the decision taken on Friday means that the council will welcome either those displaced by the conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan or through future schemes.

The move was supported in all corners of the virtual Kilncraigs chamber.

Cllr Kenny Earle said: “I know there may be some resentment from people in the community who are on a general waiting list for housing and have been for some time.

“But we must not forget that we are talking about placing four families a year for the next five years.

“They have been properly vetted and they've fled a life we cannot begin to imagine; many will never see loved ones again.”

He added Clacks already has a history in resettling refugees and said: “I'm acutely aware that we have a homeless persons problem in Clackmannanshire along with the long list of people on the general waiting list for housing.

“But the new social housing that's being built at the former Elm Grove site and the replacement housing at Engelen Drive in Alloa should go some way to address this.”

Having resettled a number of Syrian families, the Wee County has a wealth of experience.

Indeed, earlier this year Education Scotland highlighted the work of Clackmannanshire Council's Education Refugee Team as a shining example of good practice during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Funding to support the resettlement of refugees will come from the UK Government, including elements for education, English language learning and health.

In her closing remarks, Cllr Forson added: “It's the right thing to do, we – along with every other local authority in Scotland and across the UK – are going to support people who supported our troops abroad.

“Let's not forget that that's the reason why the first tranche of refugees have fled for their life, because they took employment in their country to help build a new regime and a new life for them and their fellow countrymen, which the western society just pulled out of and left them in chaos.

“They've had no option but to leave and if we can do our little part here in Clackmannanshire then I think we should do.”

Provost Tina Murphy closed the meeting and said: “I'll always think about: try and walk in that person's shoes and where we would like to get help from.

“It is a humanitarian crisis for people who are having to give up everything they've known and worked for, having to leave their families behind and perhaps never-ever seeing them again.”