Afghanistan refugees being let down by UK, says think tank

A border force official assists and Afghan refugee on her arrival to Heathrow airport

Many Afghan refugees have been “let down” by the UK, with some living in hotels for up to two years and now facing eviction, a think tank has said.

More in Common said lessons needed to be learned so future refugees were better supported.

It comes on the anniversary of the UK’s evacuation programme and the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on 15 August 2021.

Minister Johnny Mercer admitted there had been “challenges” but said he was determined to make Afghan schemes work.

Operation Pitting saw the UK airlift around 15,000 people out of Kabul – including British nationals, as well as people who worked with the UK in Afghanistan and their family members.

Those who had nowhere to live were placed in government-funded hotels. This was supposed to be temporary accommodation but by the end of March, there were still around 8,800 Afghans living in hotels.

The government has imposed a deadline of the end of August for Afghans to be moved out of hotels, but councils have warned some are facing homelessness as they cannot find anywhere else to live.

More In Common, an organisation founded in the wake of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, surveyed 132 Afghans in the UK.

It was told of failures in communication with local authorities and the Home Office on housing, rental applications being repeatedly rejected, and unsuitable homes being offered, sometimes hundreds of miles away.

One example saw a refugee living in temporary accommodation in Bristol, where they had family, offered permanent housing in Northern Ireland.

Amir Hussain Ibrahimi was evacuated from Afghanistan by the UK two years ago and has been living in a hotel in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, ever since.

The 24-year-old, who was a journalist and photographer in Afghanistan, said he was forced to leave his family behind after he was arrested and attacked by the Taliban.

“The first days when I was in the hotel we had a lot of promises – the government told us that you’re going to stay three months or four months or five months,” he told BBC News.

“It is quite hard because you don’t know what is the next step for your life.”

“Sometimes you want to feel a place is like a home,” he said, adding that he had felt depressed at times since coming to the UK.

Mr Ibrahimi said he was relieved the council had finally found him a permanent home, after being rejected by more than 10 landlords. He is now waiting to see if this landlord will accept him as a tenant.

However, he said he knew many other families who had not managed to find homes.

Mr Ibrahimi acknowledged there were challenges as other Afghans did not have experience working in the UK and often had large families. However, he said the government needed to do more to help.

Amir Hussain Ibrahimi
Image caption,Amir Hussain Ibrahimi now works as a marketing and production assistant in east London

Cabinet Office minister Mr Mercer, who served in Afghanistan during his time in the military and is responsible for the resettlement scheme, acknowledged “things could always have been done differently” and that Afghan families had been in hotels “for far too long”.

He told the PA news agency the deadline for people to leave hotels by the end of August had been “a controversial move” but it was done “with compassion in mind”.

He said 440 Afghans had been matched to homes in the past week “and I couldn’t have generated that momentum without putting that hard deadline in there”.

The government said it had provided £285m of funding to help move Afghans into permanent homes, with more than 10,500 people moved from hotels to long-term accommodation so far.

A spokesperson for the Local Government Association said councils had worked “incredibly hard” to support Afghan families but had faced challenges including a shortage of housing.

It accepted there were lessons to be learned but blamed a “delay in funding and guidance from government for creating a lot of uncertainty”.

Sir Laurie Bristow, who was the UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan when Kabul fell to the Taliban, said Britain has a responsibility to those who worked for the UK there.

“There are people in Afghanistan and in refugee camps who worked for us and worked with us and whose lives are in danger as a result of doing so,” he told Radio 4’s Today programme.

As debate continues over whether countries should engage with the Taliban, Sir Laurie said that doing so effectively could help to address reasons why Afghans were leaving the country for the UK.

A UK evacuation flight out of Kabul
Image caption,Operation Pitting saw around 15,000 people evacuated from Kabul

Meanwhile, charities have criticised resettlement schemes for being too slow and leaving many people who want to come to the UK stuck in Afghanistan.

Since the original evacuation, the numbers arriving under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) have been low, with only 40 refugees who have fled Afghanistan to neighbouring countries being resettled in the UK up to the end of March, while only 14 members of at-risk groups have been resettled directly from Afghanistan.

A further 9,059 people, who arrived in the UK under Operation Pitting, have also been resettled under the ACRS, while 11,398 have been brought to the UK under a scheme for Afghans who worked for or with the UK government.

In the meantime others have taken dangerous routes like crossing the Channel in small boats, with Afghan the most common nationality recorded among those arriving this way so far this year.

Human rights organisation Justice said the schemes had been marked by “significant delays, lack of transparency and lack of consistency”.

It called for quicker processing times and better communication with applicants.

Mr Mercer acknowledged some people had been left behind after the Taliban takeover and had still not been brought to safety.

However, he said he was determined to make resettlement schemes “work properly” and that the UK should be “proud” of its efforts to rescue people.

A Home Office spokesperson said the UK had made “one of the largest commitments of any country to support Afghanistan” and there was “no need for Afghans to risk their lives by taking dangerous and illegal journeys”.

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