Afghans in UK without access to cash, medicine or nappies

Charities and MPs have criticised the government's lack of co-ordination regarding new arrivals

A total of 8,000 refugees have been evacuated from Afghanistan to the UK this year. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

Afghan families who have arrived in the UK say they feel left in the dark regarding their future as charities say many don't have access to basic sanitary items.

Some voluntary organisations helping new arrivals from Afghanistan have complained about the UK government's lack of organisation and clarity on the refugee response that has, in some cases, left babies without formula or nappies.

The Refugee Council sounded the alarm over the treatment of the refugees saying that while it recognised the government was "working at speed", many refugees were not always getting the required support.

Khalid Aziz is one of 8,000 people who arrived in the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), the programme for those who worked with the British military and government. He was evacuated on a flight from Kabul days before the capital fell to Taliban control.

Following his release from a ten-day quarantine in a Birmingham hotel, Mr Aziz is now staying in a hotel in Canterbury, along with 11 other families, waiting to be permanently rehoused.

While he praised the treatment and necessities received so far, he said the lack of information about future plans – and those of loved ones left behind - was disappointing.

“We haven’t had any sort of induction or clarity about where we are going and what our lives here in the UK will be like,” he told The National.

Poor communication is one of several issues raised by the Refugee Council that questioned the government's promise of a "warm welcome". As well as not having access to essential items, such as sanitary products, toothpaste, nappies or medicine, the charity says the lack of information provided to refugees has left many with “little understanding of the situation or the process” they are going through.

Last week, the Home Office said permanent homes had been found for 2,000 refugees, however 6,000 remain in “holding” hotels waiting to be settled.

Along with not having access to essentials, many of those in hotels have no access to cash and the Refugee Council said no support was being given to refugees to maintain contact with family members, including children, in Afghanistan.

“It is vital that interim accommodation is safe and appropriate, to help them recover and rebuild their lives. The best place for these families is in family homes, embedded in communities, and this outcome must be achieved as soon as possible,” said Enver Solomon, chief executive of the charity.

Speaking on a panel discussing the future of Afghanistan under the Taliban, hosted by the Afghanistan Central Asia Association (ACAA) in London, parliamentarian Baroness Julie Smith warned against Britain’s “warm welcome” becoming just “warm words”.

“Our asylum system is not renowned for being welcoming and there is a real danger that the environment won’t be as welcoming as it should be,” said Ms Smith, a fellow in politics at Cambridge University.

A member of the House of Lords’ International Relations and Defence Committee, Ms Smith said her efforts were currently focused on getting those still in Afghanistan out and blamed bureaucracy for wasting precious time.

“We have left many people behind…[and] a lot of noise should be made to ensure all those vulnerable come here,” she said.

Lee Parker of SEPAR, a risk management and security company that operates in Afghanistan, said he had a list of 2,500 vulnerable people he was trying to get out of the country, but called the slow pace of processing “very frustrating”.

“Even if we can get people to the border of a neighbouring country we still can’t get them through without the right documentation,” he said.

Country co-ordinator for Afghanistan at Amnesty International, Nigina Zarifi, said the human rights organisation also had a long list of at-risk Afghans they were trying to evacuate but criticised the lack of support or answers from the UK government.

“People are losing trust,” Ms Zarifi said. “We want firmer answers from the government … the slow response from the UK government is risking lives.”

Under the radar

Amid the country’s stalled banking system and fears of Taliban persecution, there are worries that those at risk will soon run out of money and become unreachable as they go into hiding.

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly promised on Thursday that all correspondence from MPs about rescuing Afghans fleeing the Taliban would be answered by next Thursday.

The minister was responding to an urgent question raised after the prime minister promised all letters and emails from MPs on the matter would be answered by the end of Monday, September 6.

“Since the completion of the evacuation phase we have been urgently working through the correspondence including the hundreds of letters we received from MPs and peers many of which contained multiple cases,” Mr Cleverly told the Commons, adding that more than 100 additional staff had been assigned to work through the caseload.

Former Labour minister and current MP, Chris Bryant, said the government’s approach was a “shambles” and called for a “single point of contact” for all cases raised by MPs.

Ms Smith said that new hotline numbers had been set up for peers to follow up on evacuation plans, but said it was necessary to continue pushing the government on individual cases.

On Thursday, the UK’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab confirmed that 13 British nationals had been safely evacuated from Kabul to Doha. Mr Raab said he expected the Taliban to keep their commitment to allow safe passage for those who want to leave, however there are still no clear plans for how and when the thousands of remaining Afghans who are eligible for resettlement abroad would be transported.

Those who were lucky enough to have made it out while evacuations were still under way remain fearful for those left behind. Under ARAP, Mr Aziz was only allowed to bring his wife and children under 18 years old, but he is worried for the safety of his two adult children, particularly his daughter, who are still in Kabul.

Hailing from the Panjshir Valley, the heartland of anti-Taliban resistance, Mr Aziz is worried his children will be taken and harmed by the Taliban for being a part of the minority community. The hard-line rulers are reportedly searching homes door-to-door, pushing many Afghans into hiding.

“We’re worried the Taliban will do to the Panjshir what ISIS did to the Yazidis,” he said. “Everyone here is concerned about their family members back home.”

The ACAA is playing a large role in comforting worried Afghans in the UK and facilitating applications made on their behalf to bring over remaining family. Since the fall of Kabul, the organisation has registered 7,000 people on their system and sent two containers of clothes, toys and sanitary items to several hotels in and around London where Afghans are staying.

The association’s founder, Dr Nooralhaq Nasimi, said his repeated requests to work in co-ordination with the Home Office had gone unanswered.

“The last few weeks have shown how important partnership is … we welcome working with the Home Office during this difficult time,” he said.

Updated: September 14, 2021, 8:32 AM