Concerns grow for safety of 11,000 Afghan refugees stuck in UK hotels

Government minister highlights scale of the task to find permanent homes

About 11,000 people who fled Afghanistan are still living in UK hotels, the British government has revealed, as several ministers and human rights organisations call for more to be done to protect and permanently house them.

Victoria Atkins, the Minister for Afghan Resettlement, said the number showed the “scale of the task” facing officials after the evacuation effort to help people flee as the Taliban swept to power.

Britain has flown 17,000 people from Afghanistan to safety since the beginning of April. Half of those came under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap), which provides refugees with housing and financial assistance in the UK.

However, months after their arrival, the majority are yet to be placed in permanent homes and some Afghan evacuees have taken to declaring themselves homeless in a bid to expedite their resettlement process.

London Councils, which represents the UK capital’s 32 boroughs, this month said it had received more than 200 homelessness applications from recently arrived Afghan families.

Monitoring groups say a number of far-right groups are trying to recruit refugees by visiting the bridging hotels. Britain First has published videos on its website of its members visiting locations in which migrants are living.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Scottish National Party home affairs spokesman Stuart McDonald raised concerns over the refugees' safety.

“Does she [Ms Atkins] share my concern that hotels are being targeted by far-right activists and what lessons to do we learn from that in relation to asylum accommodation policy?” he said.

Ms Atkins said in response: “He’s absolutely right to raise the issue of security, I don’t want ... there to be any unintended consequences but we are very, very mindful of the security needs of our bridging hotels and people who reside within them.

“Clearly any actions to target them are not only unlawful, illegal, they are also despicable in moral terms and the police and others will work very hard to ensure that does not happen.”

The National has spoken to Afghan refugees – and organisations helping them – who have complained of a lack of communication and the slow pace of the permanent resettlement process. Amnesty International last week criticised the UK’s drive to help vulnerable Afghans for “moving at a snail’s pace”, and the government faced claims of “fobbing off” MPs over the lack of details involving the Afghan Citizen Resettlement Scheme (ACRS).

In August, the UK announced a resettlement scheme for up to 20,000 Afghans in danger of persecution but the government has yet to launch such a drive or provide more information on who is eligible and how applications are made.

“Two months on and still counting … we have still heard nothing,” said Green Party MP Caroline Lucas at the Commons.

“[Ms Atkins] says the government is working at pace but I can promise her it doesn’t feel like that for the Afghans still stuck in Afghanistan with no idea if and how they’ll be able to get to safety.

“It certainly does not feel like that to honourable members who have been writing emails, making phone calls, desperate to get some kind of response from the Home Office and Foreign Office and again and again, frankly, just being fobbed off with standard formula emails that do not address the problems that we are raising on a daily basis.”

Ms Atkins said the government had to be “realistic as to the situation” in Afghanistan.

“We are working with international partners in order to find ways and routes out of Afghanistan but we must do so with the international community.”

The Labour Party’s shadow immigration minister, Bambos Charalambous, said he shared the “frustrations” on the “slow progress” of the ACRS.

“We’re still waiting for the details from the Home Office on how the scheme will operate in practice and the government’s own website offering guidance on the scheme has not been updated since September 13.”

There are growing concerns that the approaching winter is set to worsen an already precarious humanitarian situation with more than half Afghanistan's population expected to face acute food insecurity, the United Nations' World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organisation have said.

Updated: October 26th 2021, 10:54 AM