Thousands of Afghans stuck in UK hotels as resettlement plan stalls

Minister admits there is no way to move some refugees on without losing government support

Thousands of Afghans rescued from the Taliban remain stuck in UK hotels, after a minister admitted there was no mechanism to move some of them on without losing government support.

The Home Office recently revealed that keeping Afghans in hotels was costing the taxpayer £1.2m a day. Hotel rooms are not suitable for long-term accommodation for traumatised people who have fled persecution, and prove a particularly challenging environment for families with children.

On 1 December, the Afghan resettlement minister, Victoria Atkins, told parliament that more than 4,000 Afghans had either been resettled or been matched with accommodation. More than two months later, that figure remains around the 4,000 mark.

When the Home Office, working with local authorities, finds accommodation for Afghans brought to safety, it gives councils £20,520 per person in resettlement money over three years to help with community integration.

However, any of the 12,000 Afghans still languishing in hotels who find their own accommodation cannot automatically access this support.

Tim Naor Hilton, the chief executive of Refugee Action, said this stasis “fails to meet the expectations the British public rightly had” when they “watched Afghans clinging desperately to planes during the fall of Kabul”.

In a statement to the Guardian, Atkins said: “We are exploring all options to ensure families who move out of bridging hotels into self-arranged accommodation receive the appropriate support.”

She added: “Due to an unprecedented cross-government effort, and in partnership with local authorities and the private rented sector, we have already matched or are matching approximately 4,000 evacuees to homes.

“We continue to pursue every avenue to secure permanent homes so Afghan families can settle and rebuild their lives. Afghans recognised as having a legal right to reside in the UK are immediately entitled to access essential services including education, NHS healthcare, employment opportunities and universal credit.”

She pledged that all Afghan citizens brought to the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) and the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme (ACRS) would have the right to work, access to education and healthcare and would be able to apply for public funds.

On Tuesday Atkins issued a new appeal to landlords to offer homes to Afghan families. She said: “We know these families need a place of their own so they can truly build a life in the UK, but we recognise that finding settled accommodation for so many people is a challenge. That is why today I am urging landlords to join our efforts and come forward with offers of housing so we can help these people settle and thrive.”

The charity Asylum Matters has launched a new campaign about failures of the Afghan resettlement scheme, calling it “unforgivably slow”. The campaign also raises concern about the government’s nationality and borders bill, which it says could penalise Afghans, depending on the route they use to seek sanctuary in the UK.

Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, condemned the delays and lack of flexibility in the Afghan resettlement scheme. “The government has clearly struggled to establish an effective partnership with local authorities to quickly move Afghans into long-term homes in the community.

“It’s imperative that all families are given the support they need to rebuild their lives and do not miss out on being well settled into local communities regardless of which route they choose to find a home.”

Sara Nathan, co-founder and trustee of the charity Refugees at Home, which recruits hosts with spare rooms to provide interim accommodation for asylum seekers and refugees, said her organisationhad not been able to help any resettled Afghans.

“When the Afghan evacuation happened, it really touched a sympathetic nerve and 1,600 people applied to host with Refugees at Home,” she said. “It’s incredibly frustrating that, months later, we haven’t been able to place any Afghans because of the risk they will lose Home Office support and local authority sourced housing longer term.

“So people are stuck for months in unsuitable, expensive bridging hotels when they could be hosted, cooking for themselves, integrating and becoming used to their new lives.”


Diane Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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