Torbay Council says the area already faces a housing crisis and so it cannot make room for Afghans in need of sanctuary. However, the government has called on local authorities to ask them to provide accommodation for up 20,000 refugees.
And Torbay’s decision has sparked a rift between the Lib Dem leadership and its Conservative MP Kevin Foster, who has told him to “get a grip”.
Council leader Steve Darling told Devon Live: “We’re having real massive challenges to support our own people let alone Afghan refugees.
“I don’t think people realise how much of the perfect storm we’ve got in Torbay. We’re in a crisis situation with our own people.
“Even if we did have accommodation, we’d still be facing challenges compared to other ethnically diverse parts of the UK.”
But Torbay MP Foster said: “No one’s expecting an area like Torbay to make the commitment of a large city, but to set the level at zero is very disappointing.
“There are people who shared the dangers with our forces and supported our mission who now face extreme danger if they remain in Afghanistan and we all need to make a contribution towards this.”
Mr Foster said Cllr Darling needs to “get a grip on what he can do as leader of the council”.
However, according to statistics from Devon Home Choice, the council’s social housing platform, more than 1.400 households were in housing need in Torbay as of last month, up from 1,157 in 2019.
And residents have welcomed the council’s call, sharing their praise on social media today.
One woman wrote: “We need first priority. There isn’t enough housing to go round the locals, so housing refugees before us would be extremely unfair.”
Another resident shared: “Good on them, more councils should do the same. We don’t have enough homes to house are own.”
A third posted: “Good, we need to look after our own first, no other country is stepping up to help, we are just an easy ride for them and it’s us tax payers that will suffer in the long run.”
One mother shared: “Locals first. When I was homeless the council wouldn’t help me and my three children!”
Some authorities across the UK, including Colchester Borough Council, have recently said they’ll rehome Afghan staff who supported British Armed Forces in conflict.
And four district councils in Devon have so far offered to find accommodation for people fleeing Afghanistan, with the county council urging local landlords to come forward.
But speaking in reference to Torbay’s stance, a spokesperson for Devon County Council said it was “too early to say how many people can be housed overall” and urged landlords to help by offering to rent out flats and houses to those in need.
The Tory-controlled council is working in partnership with districts in response to the situation.