BOLTON Council will ‘push back’ on settling any cross-Channel refugees in the borough but will ‘play its part’ in any official process to house those fleeing Afghnistan, the authority’s leader has said.

Cllr Martyn Cox addressed councillors on the subject as Greater Manchester Combined Authority released details of the situation as plane loads of people fleeing Kabul airport arrive in the region.

His speech came after The Bolton News revealed the Home Office had been persuaded to abandon plans to use the Britannia Hotel in Bolton to house asylum seekers, as the accommodation was already used for local homelessness cases.

Cllr Cox said it was time for the government to deliver a ‘more equitable solution’ to the dispersal and settlement of refugees and asylum seekers while recognising the ‘complex’ situation in Afghanistan.

He said: “Bolton can be rightly proud of its record over the last 20 years in the asylum and dispersal system run by the Home Office and delivered through Serco.

“If you compare what Bolton and Rochdale has done over the last 20 years, two relatively small towns have taken in more asylum seekers than the whole of the South East of England, bar London.

“We don’t have an equitable system. I’m prepared to criticise the government for this.

“There is a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

“The UK government has made it clear that they are prepared to accept over a number of years 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan.

“There is a proper system in place favouring the most vulnerable, particularly women and children.

“That is 20,000 over the whole of the UK over a number of years.

“That 20,000 is a very small figure if you take account that just yesterday nearly 800 arrived illegally though the Channel.

“As leader I will push back on taking people who have arrived illegally across the Channel.

“Immigration is not the gift of this council it’s a Home Office issue.

“But we will push back and explain Bolton’s situation.

“We will play our part in the government’s system for those who have come from Afghanistan who go through the proper process.”

Greater Manchester Combined Authority said Manchester Airport received its first flight of passengers leaving Afghanistan in the early hours of Thursday.

All the arrivals were medically assessed and supported as they left the plane before being taken to managed hotels to complete their quarantine period.

The authority said thanks to community support, passengers were given food, water and welfare support including blankets, pushchairs, nappies and baby food.

Teams from local GPs, the ambulance service and the Red Cross set up a medical triage facility within the airport to asses and treat anybody who need healthcare.

More flights are expected into Manchester Airport over the next few days.

The Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme will welcome up to 5,000 vulnerable Afghans to the UK this year who have been forced to flee the country, with up to a total of 20,000 over a five-year period.

A spokesman for GMCA, said: “The government will now work with stakeholders, including receiving local councils, to ensure that Afghans who will be rebuilding their lives in the UK have the support they need.

“Support so far from across the voluntary sector and from residents has been welcome, with collections of items like pushchairs being vital.

“Other parts of the sector have been commissioned to support arrivals or provide food and so on.

“The message for local charities at the moment though is that we have enough now of the things we need for this initial work.

“The airport and the managed quarantine hotels do not have the storage capacity to take more items, and the teams involved believe there is enough of the things we need to support any future arrivals.

“The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme is not open yet but will be available shortly.”