A HOME Office minister has made a plea for more Scottish councils to offer housing to Afghan refugees.

Victoria Atkins, the Minister for Afghan resettlement, said that only 18 councils out of 32 had made formal offers of housing – a number disputed by council sources who claim 29 local authorities have made an offer.

Meanwhile, Cosla said that “almost all” Scottish councils have committed to supporting the two resettlement schemes – one for interpreters and those who worked with UK armed forces (ARAP), and the scheme for Afghan citizens.

Asked to clarify the number of Scots councils who have pledged formal support, the Home Office said they could not provide a breakdown.

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During a briefing to Scottish journalists at the Home Office in London, Atkins (below) was asked for an update on the involvement of Scottish local authorities in resettling refugees.

She said: “I’m really pleased that we’re working with all the devolved assemblies and we want obviously, we are very conscious that housing is devolved, and I absolutely respect that, but really keen to work with the devolved administrations.

“Like we are doing to see how plans across the United Kingdom will best be implemented in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“I think I’m right in saying that of the 32 local authorities I think 18 have been kind enough to offer homes, and we’d love to persuade the others to do so as well.

“And that’s my plea not just to Scottish local authorities across the United Kingdom that hasn’t yet been able to make a formal offer, I’d very much like them to.”

The National: UK Government Minister for Crime Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Victoria Atkins. Photograph: PA

A Cosla spokesperson said: “Scottish Local Government has repeatedly shown its willingness to support the UK’s humanitarian efforts and is doing so again in relation to the crisis in Afghanistan.

“Since July, around 260 people from Afghanistan have been welcomed into local authorities across Scotland and councils have worked at pace to welcome families into communities and to provide the wrap-around support that is required for their integration.

“Almost all councils in Scotland have now committed to supporting the two Afghan resettlement schemes, and they are working through a range of necessary and practical issues to ensure a good match between properties and Afghan families.

“In addition, Cosla is continuing to work with the UK Government to seek to expedite current processes so that property offers that councils have already made can be matched with Afghan families as soon as possible.”

The Home Office would not give an exact figure on how many homes they needed to find for refugees, but said roughly dividing 15,000 by five would mean 3000 properties are needed.

So far, the department said they had offers from more than 200 local authorities across the UK to house refugees.

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Asked for exactly how many homes have been offered, a UK Government spokesperson said: “It changes all the time because often you have a load of authorities that call and say we’d love to participate in this scheme, we’re going to help, but they haven’t actually got concrete house or property address ready to go.

“It morphs over time so that’s why we can’t give the exact data.”

Atkins also made a call to any Scottish employers who would be willing to provide refugees with a job and housing. Asked about what protections are being considered to make sure vulnerable Afghan refugees don’t end up involved in modern slavery through such a scheme.

Atkins said that during her time as Safeguarding Minister she worked extensively on the issue.

She added: “These plans are at a very early stage, if you like I’m dipping my toe in the water with you, any plans that we create will be very very carefully structured.

“As I say my work on modern slavery means I’m extremely alert to any concerns on that. Lets not go into this at the negative mindset, there could well be some opportunities for example in the hospitality sector.

“It might well be that we’re able to find that happy marriage between an employer who can offer good accommodation to people whilst also offering employment opportunities.”

Atkins was also probed on whether or not Afghan refugees, such as those who are medically trained, could work in the NHS and social care to plug the gap left by EU nationals who left the UK after Brexit.

Atkins said: “I would love for us to, at the moment you’ll appreciate as with any person who hasn’t been trained in the United Kingdom there’s always the question of equivalence in qualifications, so that’s one of the issues that will take us a little bit of time to work through.

“If in a year or two’s time we have got Afghan doctors and nurses within our NHS then that will be a fantastic bonus for our country and for them.”