Thousands of Afghans to be held in hotels indefinitely as councils left ‘in dark’ over housing plan

Refugees ‘desperate for information’ about where they will live

<p>Newly arrived Afghans are set to spend an indefinite period in hotel accommodation before they are moved to permanent homes </p>

Newly arrived Afghans are set to spend an indefinite period in hotel accommodation before they are moved to permanent homes

Thousands of Afghans evacuated to Britain in recent weeks are set to be placed in temporary hotel accommodation for an indefinite period as local councils say they have been left “in the dark” about how they can help.

Charities warn that the mental health of already traumatised people is likely to suffer as a result of the use of hotels, and that this will be exacerbated by the lack of information given to them about when and where they will be permanently housed.

The lack of clarity was causing “unnecessary worrying and anxiety,” to new arrivals, said one charity working with refugees.

Rosalind Ereira, founder of Solidarity with Refugees, said she spoke to an Afghan former interpreter on Thursday morning who told her he was in the last day of quarantine with his pregnant wife and children, but that they had not been given any information on their next step.

“They have been told nothing at all and are just waiting to be told what happens next. His wife is due to give birth soon so they want to feel settled. It’s all very opaque,” she said.

Louise Calvey, head of services and safeguarding at Refugee Action, said the charity has yet to receive any clarification from the Home Office on what support will be available in hotels, raising concerns that families would not have access to these vital services.

When contacted by The Independent, the government could not confirm whether Afghan children would be able to access education in hotels.

Ms Calvey also sounded the alarm about the psychological impact this would have on families. “We worry people are going to be in hotels for a very long time. We have significant concerns about the potential for hotel accommodation to compound damage caused by trauma, particularly if there’s no information on how long they’re likely to be there and what their ultimate destination is,” she said.

“A major issue is going to be access to health and therapeutic support. We know that’s really difficult, even in permanent accommodation. What support has the Home Office put into place around that?”

The UK has evacuated around 14,000 people from Kabul under Operation Pitting since 13 August, along with roughly 1,000 British troops – who have been included in the government’s evacuation figures.

Among those evacuated are more than 8,000 Afghans who worked for the UK and their families, who will be resettled under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), and some 5,000 British nationals.

The remaining evacuees consist of around 300 UK government staff, 1,000 non-Afghan foreign nationals whom Britain agreed to help, and an unknown number of highly vulnerable Afghans, such as female judges and sportswomen, according to the Ministry of Defence.

The Home Office said on Wednesday that it has so far secured permanent housing for 2,000 Afghans, meaning homes have not yet been found for 6,000 ARAP arrivals. They are expected to be temporarily housed in “holding” hotels until properties are procured for them.

The department has said that the vulnerable Afghans evacuated who are not eligible under the ARAP programme will fall under the new Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ACRS). Local councils say the process of securing homes for this cohort has not yet begun – so they are also likely to be housed in temporary hotel accommodation.

Most evacuated Afghans are still completing a 10-day quarantine in hotels, but charities warn that they have not been informed about what will happen to them after this period of isolation ends.

Ms Calvey, who assisted with supporting arrivals at a UK airport last week, said most of those she had come across were “desperate for information” about when and where they would be placed in a permanent home, but that they had received no information from the Home Office.

“It’s causing unnecessary worrying and anxiety. They’ve got enough on their plates. We’ve asked the Home Office to send information so we can inform people, but it isn’t communicating,” she added.

Home Office minister Victoria Atkins, who is overseeing “Operation Warm Welcome” – the plan for resettling people under ARAP – has said the government is working with more than 100 UK councils to meet the demand for housing, with more than 2,000 places so far confirmed.

But councils say they have not received information from the Home Office on what is needed and how they can help, slowing down the already challenging process of procuring permanent homes.

Cllr David Rouane, of South Oxfordshire District Council, which offered one permanent home for the ARAP scheme earlier this year and would now like to offer more, said: “Many councils are ready to help but we are in the dark about what it is precisely that government wants us to provide.

“It is not just about housing, we need to ensure that we get the wrap-around care right, matching schooling and health care in a long-term support package. We also need to engage with local partners including the third sector who have so much to offer.

“To do this we need detail not headlines, involvement not directive, and long-term commitment rather than short-term headlines.”

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds called on ministers to “show leadership and offer clear guidance” on housing for newly arrived Afghans.

“All those placed in hotels must be given appropriate information and support, and the suitability and safety of such accommodation must be fully assessed. Then plans must be put in place to help people move on to suitable accommodation as soon as possible,” he said.

The Independent has launched a petition urging the UK government to be more ambitious in its plans to take in Afghan refugees following the Taliban seizing power and withdrawal of western troops. Our Refugees Welcome campaign backs calls by charities for Downing Street to re-settle those who fear for their lives under the Taliban regime.

A government spokesperson said: “A significant cross-government effort is under way to ensure Afghans arriving in the UK receive the support they need. Our focus has been rightly on getting people out of Afghanistan, but we have been simultaneously working round the clock to stand up support with local authorities and ensure we have accommodation for those arriving.

“We have made £5m available to local authorities to support in housing costs. Arrivals will have to stay in hotels upon arrival to complete mandatory quarantine and we aim to move them into long-term accommodation as soon as possible.”

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