UK's Afghan centre engulfed by enquiries from worried loved ones

Immigration advice tops requests for information from families and friends

Dr Nooralhaq Nasimi, who founded the Afghan and Central Asian Association in west London, described the situation in Afghanistan as 'horrible'. Stefan Rousseau / PA Images via Getty
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A community centre for Afghans in west London has been inundated with enquiries and visits from people trying to extricate friends and family from Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan and Central Asian Association in Feltham was set up by Dr Nooralhaq Nasimi after he and his family arrived as refugees in the UK in 1999.

Dr Nasimi told The National that many Afghans in the country are confused by the process for evacuation and resettlement and he urged the British government to establish a main point of contact.

He said a lot of people were "crying", with many asking "what will happen for the family members back home, what will happen for the future of Afghanistan”.

“There have been hundreds of people are calling and coming from across different parts of the UK … at this critical time, the only support that they are looking for in the community is someone with immigration advice.”

Set up in 2001, the ACAA offers a host of cultural and community services for refugees and migrants in the UK, including language classes, employment services and a programme of events.

Dr Nasimi said his organisation has been acting informally as liaison for Afghans since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan but that its capabilities as a small charity were limited.

One of the few Afghan physical community centres in the UK capital, hundreds of people have visited the ACAA in recent weeks to ask for advice on how to help family and friends in Afghanistan. The centre has also become a drop-off point for donations of clothes and hygiene packs for newly arrived Afghans.

“There isn’t any specific UK organisation to tell the people what they want to know. We are here to support the people of Afghanistan. Even British people have called us asking for help but we are just a small charity,” said the founding director, who was awarded a British Citizen Award for services to refugee and migrant communities in the UK last year.

The UK announced plans to resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees in the country over five years with the first 5,000 within 12 months. The Home Office has yet to open the application process for resettlement and Dr Nasimi says the ACAA is fielding hundreds of daily requests about the scheme.

The organisation, which received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2018, is also trying to arrange for 15 of its own staff to be flown out of Afghanistan, where it has two citizens' advice bureaus which have had projects funded by the UK and Canada.

The organisation said it had reached out repeatedly to British and Canadian authorities in its attempt to extricate its staff members but without success, leading to growing concerns that chaotic evacuation plans and corruption might be impeding fair access to those eligible.

Countries conducting the evacuations are trying to meet the deadline of August 31 agreed to with the Taliban for the withdrawal of foreign forces.

Britain has flown more than 7,000 people out of Afghanistan in the past 10 days. Afghan refugees arriving in the UK are being housed in hotels around the country while their applications for asylum are processed.

Updated: August 24, 2021, 2:15 PM

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