Afghan refugees in London face move 300km away in weeks

Group includes 150 children, many of whom are settled in schools

A member of Border Force staff assists a female evacuee as refugees arrive from Afghanistan at Heathrow Airport in August 2021.  Reuters
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Dozens of Afghan refugees who have been living in London for the last 18 months have been told they must prepare to pull their children from schools mid-year and move 300km away in weeks.

The group, which includes 40 families and about 150 children who have been living in hotels in Kensington, have been told they are being relocated to Wetherby near Leeds, according to reports.

But some of the migrants have said they will refuse to leave for fear of unsettling their children, who will be forced to withdraw from schools they have settled in.

They said they already suffered enough trauma due to war and having to flee Afghanistan because of the Taliban takeover. And many others worry they will not be able to find work in Wetherby.

“We asked the Home Office: ‘Why do you want to force us out?’ and they say: ‘This hotel is expensive. The Leeds hotel is cheaper,’" Hamidullah Khan, a former parliamentary adviser in Kabul who was evacuated to the UK with his wife and three sons aged between four and 14, told the Guardian.

“But we didn’t choose this hotel or this area to live in, the Home Office did,” he said. “Now we have been here, not out of choice, for 18 months. Our children are going to local schools, and in the middle of the school year they ask us to leave.”

He wants the government to stop paying tens of thousands in school fees and act as a guarantor for him instead, so the family can rent near London.

“Please do not send us to a Leeds hotel where our children will lose their schooling. They may have to drop out of their year because they won’t have places for them there,” he said.

The families resisting the move were evacuated from Afghanistan because their family members worked with the British. They were informed last week of plans to move them to Wetherby.

About 9,000 Afghan refugees are still living in temporary accommodation since arriving in the UK in August 2021 after the fall of Kabul.

The government has said it intends to move all refugees from Afghanistan out of hotels by the end of the year.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson had promised to support Afghan refugees who worked and fought alongside the UK.

Another resident being forced to move, who worked with the Ministry of Defence in Kabul before fleeing to the UK, said his wife had been suffering from blackouts and his eldest son was deeply depressed and had threatened to kill himself.

“We hope to live independently in the UK. But the promises of help finding a home have come and gone, and now this threat of being forced to move,” he said.

A representative of the Home Office said the families had been told they would have to move since September.

The plan to move the group to Wetherby has been met with the opposition of some residents, with one telling the Leeds Live website in November that the government had been “underhand and secretive”.

It comes after three Afghan families launched a legal challenge against Home Secretary Suella Braverman for failing to fulfil a commitment to help them rebuild their lives in the UK after relocating them hundreds of miles away to new temporary accommodation in September.

They told the High Court in January that the government’s decision to move the evacuated families hundreds of miles across England to new temporary accommodation caused “considerable disruption” to the education of children facing exams.

They claim their children were studying and others had jobs and that an offer to transfer them from a London hotel to temporary accommodation in northern England was “unlawful”.

Lawyers for the families have said several children still do not have school places months after the move, while one woman is at risk of losing her job in the capital.

They accuse Ms Braverman of failing to take into account the personal circumstances of the Afghan citizens when considering where they could be housed.

Updated: February 03, 2023, 10:32 AM