Yalda, the winter solstice celebrated with poetry and fruit in Afghanistan, was a much more relaxed occasion for Nasima Karimi this year, in her hotel room in London.
The former human resources worker at the British Embassy in Kabul has tried to create a little glitz for herself and for other Afghan residents who have been living in transitional hotels for months after their evacuation from Afghanistan.
Nasima is one of 12,000 Afghans who have worked with the UK government or UK forces and are therefore eligible for resettlement under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) program.
This is the third hotel Nasima and her mother have stayed at since arriving in the UK at the end of August. Located in the heart of the capital’s financial district, there are few parks, community activities or attractions near the hotel.
“I wanted to organize something to celebrate the night for us because we are all very stressed and we don’t really have a place to gather and sit,” says Nasima, who asked the hotel if it would allow them to gather in the hall to observe the evening.
At this hotel, where some 20 families have been staying since the start of the month, residents are served meals together three times a day in the dining room but are otherwise expected to stay in their rooms, where they are not allowed to go. take food.
Nasima asked the hotel to replace their daily fruits with watermelon or pomegranate – the traditional fruits eaten to commemorate the longest night of the year – or if residents could buy theirs to eat at the hotel, but both requests were rejected. Borrowing a loudspeaker from reception to play traditional music was also, she said, out of the question.
“It was sad,” Nasima told me the next morning, with a photo of the hotel’s rice and chicken dinner served in an aluminum tin with a banana next to it. “I wanted to celebrate it here because the Taliban wouldn’t let us do that in Afghanistan and I wanted to teach the children about this part of our culture.”
For Nasima, not having the space or permission to eat the fruit she wants is more than just a matter of taste, even though she says eating the exact same thing day after day for months on end doesn’t. been easy. Requests for changes were either ignored or rejected, adding to the general lack of hospitality she felt from hotel staff members.
“Some of them are not very nice, some say mean things like ‘we’re paying for you to be here’ and that sort of thing,” says Nasima. “It’s like a prison for us here, I find it hard to be here, we all do.”
This difficulty is aggravated by the delays of the Ministry of the Interior in processing permanent housing and residence cards for the 12,000 new arrivals.
“Everyone expected to start their new life by the new year and celebrate with their family, but we have been at the hotel for four months and waiting for residence permits and accommodation and we have the same type of food every day and no one can take it anymore … we just eat to survive at this point. “
Frustrations echoed with other Afghans across the country, who say they are “just waiting their turn” to start living normally. Even among those who have been accommodated, the feeling of being installed remains elusive.
“For me it’s a challenge not to have a job and to stay home and [I] don’t feel useful or efficient, ”says the former chief executive of the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and former politician in the British Embassy, who was relocated to Perth in the north of Scotland with her children in October. “I’m very educated and experienced, but in a small town there aren’t a lot of opportunities that make me feel depressed and disappointed, but I keep my hopes up and use my network,” Sayed Hashimi said. The National.
Sayed wants more support and the government will focus on training and employment programs that will help refugees “fend for themselves” and build independent lives.
Ideal as this autonomy may seem for all concerned, the Home Ministry’s relocation plans have been hampered by delays and criticism of poor planning and communication. For its part, the government has repeatedly praised the completion of its “largest and fastest” emergency evacuation in recent history, and “the enormous effort now underway” to ensure that families are housed. permanently in order to “rebuild their life”.
For the thousands of Afghans who only have to stare at the four walls of their hotel rooms and who increasingly worry about those who remain in Afghanistan, rebuilding their own lives seems far from the beginning.
Update: December 25, 2021 9:01 am