The still-growing tragedy in Afghanistan has continued to dominate my thoughts and work this week. I have been contacted by dozens of Richmond Park constituents with relatives in Afghanistan and have offered all the help I can to their family members. Many of them have UK immigration rights but have been unable to get transport out of the country. Their stories are heartbreaking, and I want to assure my constituents that I am doing all I can for them.
I am hoping to get more information about the Government's resettlement scheme soon, and I join my Liberal Democrat colleagues in demanding that the Government tell us how many people who are eligible to settle in the UK have been left behind in Afghanistan, and what they are going to do to get them to safety. We must never forsake our moral duty to those who are now in danger because they worked for British military, diplomatic or aid organisations.
I want to pay tribute to the Ministry of Defence staff and service personnel on the ground in Afghanistan who have run the evacuation -- risking their own lives to try to get as many people out as possible before the August 31 deadline. Their efforts have been heroic and they deserve all of our thanks. They have saved thousands of lives this week and I am deeply grateful for their service.
I call on the Home Secretary to explain the Government's plans to assist the hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees who will be fleeing repressive Taliban rule over the next weeks and months. The British Government must work with international partners to establish safe corridors, so those who wish to leave can do so safely by land. We cannot abandon Afghan refugees, many of them women and children, to the Taliban and ISIS.
If you would like to help those fleeing Afghanistan, I would suggest that at this time monetary donations will be the most helpful. Aid organisations have not had time to set up channels for other types of donations yet, though clothes and other goods are being supplied to people arriving. Some organisations asking for assistance include Refugee Council UK, the Red Cross, and the International Rescue Commitee.
On the local level, the Feltham-based Afghanistan and Central Asian Association (ACAA) provides support, skills and knowledge to help new arrivals integrate and prosper in the UK. Constituents from Afghanistan might like to contact them for support and information, and others might want to donate to support their work. You can see their website here.
If you would like to write to me for personal assistance, please send the following details:
Your details: name, address, email address, phone number
Relative/s in Afghanistan's details: Full name, date of birth, nationality, relationship to constituent, Home Office reference number, passport/travel document number, visa/ARAP status and any reference numbers, current location, any supporting documents
If you would like to write to me about Government policy on Afghanistan, please check whether your questions have been answered in this open letter to my constituents. If your policy concern is covered there, I would like to kindly ask you not to write to me at this time, while I focus on assisting those in need.
Please feel free to share this newsletter or the open letter with other constituents.
It is with great sadness that I report that Richmond Park has lost one of its most notable residents. On Thursday 12 August, Geoffrey Pidgeon, one of the last surviving team-members of the World War Two code-breaking centre, Bletchley Park, passed away.
Geoffrey was just 17 years old when he joined the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), the forerunner to MI6, at Bletchley Park. He was part of the team that shared information intercepted from the enemy with Allied field commanders.
One of the youngest people involved at Bletchley Park, Geoffrey will be among the very last of this generation who did so much to save so many lives. In recognition of his work, he was awarded the Legion d' Honneur by the French Ambassador and our Minister of Defence in October 2019.
In his final years, Geoffrey wrote 'The Secret Wireless War', a book about the activities the SIS, and he was researching his latest newsletter on the subject just before he died, aged 95. I had the pleasure of taking tea with him before the pandemic and found him as warm, erudite and energetic as ever. Geoffrey is survived by his three sons.
I would like to convey to constituents the danger of jumping into the Thames from Teddington Lock. Increasing numbers of teenagers have been doing this and I ask parents to please talk to their children about it. The currents in this stretch of river are fast and unpredictable, and the water is not clear enough to see what may be waiting for them below the surface. The lock and weir create special riptide hazards, as do boats, whose captains may not see a single swimmer in time. With warmer, sunnier weather to come this weekend, please help keep young people safe by spreading the word.
HARLEQUINS VACCINATION CENTRE CLOSING
Since the Twickenham Stoop (Harlequins) Stadium vaccination site opened in February, the NHS has delivered over 75,000 Covid-19 vaccinations there. However, with Covid-19 restrictions being eased, Harlequins needs to reopen the stadium to fans for the new rugby season. Accordingly, the vaccination centre will close after Sunday. On behalf of the thousands of my constituents who were vaccinated there, I would like to thank the Harlequins rugby club for supplying their space. I would also like to say thank you to the staff who ran this excellent centre.
Harlequins is open for walk-in vaccinations for anyone aged 16 and over one Satuirday and Sunday: from 9 - 6 for Oxford AstraZeneca and from 9 - 7 for Pfizer. Other local centres available include Essex House surgery in Barnes, the Roehampton vaccination centre at Queen Mary’s Hospital, the Hawks Road vaccination site in Kingston, and several local pharmacies. A list of vaccination sites is available here. COFFEE MORNING
My next virtual coffee morning will be on Wednesday, 8 September at 10:00am. If you would like to join myself and some of your fellow constituents for a brief update on what I am doing as your MP followed by informal conversation about topics of interest to you, please sign up here.
NEW HELP FOR EATING DISORDERS
Beat, a national eating disorder charity, has launched a new support service to help southwest London-based carers, including those in Richmond Park. Beat offers one to one guidance to each family’s specific situation.
Beat has launched a weekly telephone coaching service for carers, parents and siblings of people with eating disorders, called Nexus. It has also launched a peer support group over Zoom where carers can connect with each other and speak to people in similar situations, while an eating disorder specialist is also present. This service is called Solace.
Beat also provides helplines for people of all ages, offering support and information about eating disorders. You can call their Helpline on 0808 801 0677, the Studentline on 0808 801 0811 or the Youthline on 0808 801 0711. Helplines are open 365 days a year, from 9am–8pm during the week, and 4pm–8pm on weekends and bank holidays.
If you are in need of urgent help for yourself or someone else outside of Beat's helpline opening hours, please contact 999 or call the Samaritans on 116 123. You can also call southwest London's new NHS Coral Mental Health hub on 0800 028 8000. Information about Coral can be found in the graphic below.
RICHMOND COUNCIL LOOKING FOR PROPERTIES FOR AFGHAN REFUGEES
The Leader of Richmond Council, Councillor Gareth Roberts, has spoken about the Council’s commitment to supporting those fleeing their homes to seek safety in the UK. The Council is in early discussions with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Home Office about the support it can provide to house Afghan refugees.
The Council is requesting that landlords who could offer a property for new arrivals to rent register their details. The refugees are likely to be in family groups, so the Council is particularly keen to hear from those able to offer three and four bed properties. Properties will need to be available to rent on an assured shorthold tenancy for a minimum of 12 months, with rent levels set within the limits of the local housing allowance. More information is available here or you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 020 8871 7333.
HAM PARADE MARKET
The next Ham Parade Market will be on Saturday 4 September. The market is always on the first Saturday of the month (except in January.) Remaining dates for 2021 are 2 October, 6 November and 4 December.
HELP FOR PEOPLE SELF-ISOLATING
If you need to self-isolate or need help due to Covid-19, the Kingston Stronger Together Community Response Hub is still here to support you. They can help those who do not have existing trusted people around them with self-isolating, food, fuel and essentials, shopping services and medicine deliveries. The befriending and Connected Kingston services can help keep you connected with others and if you are on a low income, they may be able to help you to access financial support through the NHS Test and Trace Support Payment scheme.
For help please complete the support form here or call 020 8547 5000 if you can't access online forms.
AIR QUALITY ACTION PLAN
Kingston Council recently published its new Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP) which sets out the work they will undertake to help improve the borough's air quality over the next five years. It was shaped, in part, by residents who took part in the Citizens’ Assembly on air quality. Find out more and read the report.