Since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, 22,833 people have arrived in the UK from Afghanistan, nearly all of whom had at least one family member who served with the British authorities. Nearly 18 months later, about 9,000 are still living in temporary accommodation
Where are Afghan refugees staying?
Many Afghan refugees arriving in the UK have been or continue to be housed in bridging hotels – temporary accommodation while a permanent home can be sourced. Hundreds of Afghans in Kensington, including 150 children, have been told they must move to Yorkshire this week. They are refusing to move.
What is a bridging hotel?
These are run by the Home Office and were booked by the department in August 2021 when the evacuation began. While local authorities do not directly run the hotels, some councils have taken on responsibility to provide residents of the hotel with support.
Was this always the plan?
No. Many Afghans came to the UK believing that they might be found accommodation quickly by the Home Office but it has proved to be very difficult. Under “operation warm welcome”, Afghans were supposed to get support to “ensure that those who worked closely with the British military and UK government in Afghanistan, and risked their lives in doing so, get the vital health, education, support into employment and accommodation they need to fully integrate into society”.
Did it prove to be difficult to find local authority homes?
Yes. There was already a housing crisis in the UK; many of the Afghan families are larger than an average family – sometimes up to 10 members – and require more bedrooms than the average property; and affordable places tend to be out of large cities and away from Afghan communities and friends.
Afghan refugees have told the Guardian that they also received many messages of false hope over the first year – promises from Home Office staff that they would be out of their hotels in a few months. It didn’t happen.
Some of these hotels are three or four stars – are they living in luxury?
No. While the infrastructure is some of the hotels is on paper luxurious, the reality is that once the hotels are taken over by the Home Office, many of the extra services such as gyms, swimming pools and room service are off limits. There is no room service and the food tends to be doled out from large pans, not a la carte.
Are the families living two people to each room?
Certainly not. One family had lived for 14 months with a husband, a wife, a 14-month-old and a three-year-old in a single room. Others were living with six people in a room.
Many have complained that living in such cramped conditions, and eating the same food over and over again has become very stressful. They complain about skin conditions, lice, vomiting bugs, depression and anxiety. There is nowhere for children to play or study.
Has the government changed policy?
From August, Afghans were encouraged by the Home Office to try and find private rented accommodation as it became apparent that the Home Office was unlikely to be able to find accommodation for them.
What have been the difficulties?
Once an Afghan refugee finds a suitable property, they are supposed to get it signed off by the Home Office. Most are working and can pay for it themselves, but if not, they can seek benefits or financial help from government,
Nevertheless, the Home Office has been slow in responding to requests for approval and the process is very confusing.
In many cases, private rented landlords do not wait for the Home Office to respond but rent out their properties to other tenants who can take up the tenancy at pace.
Jo Underwood, the head of strategic litigation at Shelter, said she had seen many Afghan families thwarted in their search for private accommodation by slow processes in the Home Office.
“We have had clients who have found eight or nine properties, gone back to the Home Office and have heard nothing,” she said. “And then the properties go.
“The frustration is that there is a scheme in place which should work. But it just does not work at all well.”
Why are they being moved out of London?
The obvious reason is cost to the taxpayer. Council sources have told the Guardian that the Home Office is keen to move all Afghans out of inner city hotels by the end of the year.
If the Afghan refugees are so desperate to move out, have they tried looking for alternatives?
They are unable to rent a private property because most Afghans brought to the UK have low income and no credit history.
They are unable to build credit history because they have no permanent address.