Hundreds of Afghans in UK urged to move to new towns

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At a table outside a hotel in London, a former colonel in the Afghan army can at least reflect on the fact that the safety and happiness of his children is his priority.

Despite the traumatic upheaval of a chaotic and dangerous evacuation from Afghanistan last year, the former officer’s children are “doing very well” at the school they attend in London.

His youngest, who is 6, is now fluent in English, while his father is taking construction classes in hopes of starting a new career once he is finally settled.

But a recent letter from the British Home Office poses the challenge of further upheaval, underscoring how far away the stability he and thousands of other Afghans have dreamed of remains.

After staying at a relay hotel in London for the past 10 months, the colonel was told that next month they would be moving to another hotel, 200 miles from Manchester.

Others have been told they will be sent to hotels near Gatwick in West Sussex, or in Kent, both in south-east England. Some still do not know where they will be moved to in the UK when the housing overhaul begins.

In March, 100 families staying in a hotel in central London were dispersed to hotels outside the capital.

Elsewhere, hotels in Wigan, Greater Manchester, northwest England, and Stafford, Staffordshire, in the West Midlands, would now close to Afghan refugees. This group is being moved up to 130km from Liverpool.

Having not yet been offered permanent accommodation, the father of five in London finds the move to other temporary accommodation in a city four hours away disappointing and difficult.

“Where is the strategy? Where is the planning? If I had a forever home, I could just focus on the kids and our future. I would also like to work eventually, but how can we plan anything? ” he said The National.

His children will have to re-enroll in a school in Manchester, although it is unclear how long they will stay in the city.

“Our concern is mainly for our children, creating a good environment for them. We have already lost so much of our physical lives and property, I don’t want to lose our family.

Another Afghan refugee at the hotel, who has already been moved to three different hotels since arriving in the UK in August, said everyone was “sad, stressed and anxious” about the impending move.

“We used to get together at dinner time and talk about our study or work plans, what our children were doing in school, the things we wanted to do with our lives.

‘Now everyone is just comparing notes on what the Home Office letter told them and what city they will now be sent to,’ said the resident, who asked not to be identified. .

These hotel occupants are all among 15,000 Afghan and British citizens who were transferred to the UK in August after Kabul fell to the Taliban.

The government’s promise of a warm welcome and permanent accommodation has encouraged many to try to rebuild their shattered lives with new friendships, jobs and educational opportunities, but ever-changing living conditions threaten a situation already weak.

Unstable: “the warm welcome” that leaves the Afghans in the cold

In the hotel The National visited, about two-thirds of families have children in school and at least two people work in London. Several people told me that they were applying for postgraduate studies ― one of them had already been accepted on a scholarship to study at a university in the capital.

These building blocks are now in danger of being dismantled, and not for the last time.

“My children are doing very well in school here. One of them took advanced computer classes, but now that we are moving, I don’t know if he will be able to continue with them,” said an Afghan father in the hotel lobby.

Afghan and British citizens evacuated from Kabul aboard a British military plane.  Pennsylvania

He had hoped to apply for a postgraduate degree himself, but said it was “impossible to make plans” without knowing where they will live.

According to a Home Office official, more than 6,000 people have been moved – or are in the process of moving – into homes since June 2021.

This leaves 6,000 to 9,000 people still living in temporary accommodation.

But as London hotels seek to welcome tourists back in the first summer after pandemic restrictions were lifted, some establishments are not renewing contracts with the Home Office to temporarily house Afghan refugees.

Poor planning, insufficient staff

The problem, say those working to resettle Afghans in the UK, stems from a lack of government planning and “unmanaged expectations”, which has led some Afghans to reject available accommodation.

“I don’t see the end of the relay hotels, not in the near future, not in the next six months, unless they come up with a very solid housing plan,” Yvonne Kachikoti of Refugee Action, who helps refugees to build new lives in the UK, says The National.

A lack of strategy and understaffing at the Interior Ministry ― some of which has been diverted to helping Ukrainian refugees ― leaves Afghans caught in a cycle of waiting.

As the government talks about its “leading role in the international response to support at-risk Afghan citizens”, it has urged more local authorities to come forward to offer housing.

This week, a senior official hailed the government’s “positive contribution” to resettling Afghans and said families in hotels were “better off” than if they were in Afghanistan.

“Even for a family in a hotel who would prefer to be integrated elsewhere, they are still better off in the UK than they would have been in Afghanistan,” said Matthew Rycroft, permanent secretary at the Home Office.

“And I think it’s worth remembering the big picture of why we do this kind of thing,”

But Ms Kachikoti, who runs Refugee Action’s resettlement and integration services, blames mismanagement by the Home Office for leaving people in limbo.

“I don’t think it’s the local authorities who aren’t helping. We have already sent information about Afghans and available houses to the Interior Ministry and it takes weeks for them to come back to us,” she said.

The criticism was echoed by a source working with a local authority on the resettlement program who said The National than the overall support promised by the government, but which has not been so readily available.

“There are people who have been moved to areas where there is very little support offered and no relatable community, so they feel quite vulnerable and confused,” he said.

As part of the government’s Warm Welcome to Afghan Refugees operation, local councils have received funding envelopes of £20,520 ($25,230) per person over three years. The funding will help refugees enroll in school, find work and integrate into their new communities.

Finding homes for Afghan families is proving slow and difficult

The process of matching people with homes has been criticized by Afghans and those working to resettle them.

One of the Afghans The National wondered why the Home Office sent them a long form to fill in explaining their situation and preferences about where to live, if in the end “they were never going to listen to us”.

“They told us to fill in the form and let them know all our circumstances, what we were doing, where we wanted to live. And now there are people who work in London who are being told they are moving to Manchester at hours,” the hotel resident said.

Miscommunication and “unmanaged expectations” have led some Afghan refugees to reject offers of permanent housing in areas where they would rather not live.

“There is a level of fear, people who have moved tell others that it is really difficult to budget, that there are not many Afghans or ethnic minorities, that you feel isolated” , said Ms. Kachikoti.

As a result, she fears the UK has created “a dependency syndrome” for hotel residents who fear the availability of a social worker, three meals a day and a room ― even a guest room. impersonal hotel ― be better than what is offered in the long run.

Earlier this year, the The Home Office revealed that keeping Afghans in hotels was costing the taxpayer £1.2million a day and, like some of the Afghans interviewed, Ms Kachikoti wondered if that money would not be better spent providing a financial assistance for Afghans to find and rent their own homes.

“We have always said that from the start the government should let people find their own accommodation. They should have a private rental system, give people deposits, help them search through a local housing rate – we just won’t find enough housing otherwise,” Ms Kachikoti said.

This housing crisis could worsen further as hundreds of Ukrainian refugees who were housed under the Homes For Ukraine program become homeless, increasing the burden on local authorities to house them.

The concern is that a confluence of growing numbers of refugees, a slow resettlement process and dwindling housing options will keep these unstable people trapped in a cycle of dependency where they will not be able to build themselves. a new life, even if they want it.

Updated: June 25, 2022, 04:00

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