Fri 13 January 2023:
Thousands of Afghan citizens who served Britain in its army and other bodies were evacuated with their families from Afghanistan in what was reported as the biggest British military evacuation in over 70 years, Anadolu News Agency reports.
Although the majority of more than 21,000 refugees have now been placed in accommodation, almost half of the evacuees are still stuck in hotels. According to the latest figures provided by the Home Office, 9,242 individuals are placed in 63 hotels across the UK, and “around half” are children.
The UK evacuated about 18,000 people, including more than 6,000 British nationals, in the two weeks following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August 2021. But after the evacuation ended, thousands continued to flee the country and applied for the Afghan Citizen’s Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) or Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP).
Some made it to the UK on their own, and applied to one of those schemes, while others submitted their applications through British diplomatic missions in neighbouring nations. Speaking to Anadolu, Fahim Zazai, the founder of the Afghan Community and Welfare Centre in Walsall, said those who remain in hotels were not all evacuees but also included many who arrived in later months.
Zazai was 20 years old when he made it to the UK from Afghanistan in 1999. He has, since, dedicated himself to help refugees settle in the community with the charity he founded 15 years ago. Now that the Taliban is back in power, he spends long hours each day to help those who have been evacuated by the British army.
Many refugees reach out to Zazai, seeking help in finding housing. “A person has recently contacted me from Preston, saying it’s been almost two years since he, his wife and their six children are stuck in a hotel. I told him that all we could do is to look for private housing, which then needs to be approved by the Home Office. This person has developed mental health issues. It’s devastating for them,” he said.
Settling into the country to have an ordinary life is not easy, Zazai says, pointing out that those placed in hotels could be accommodated anywhere in the country, where they have no connection to family or friends. “They have no support in terms of language or a social circle. So basically, they are completely isolated in a random location,” he said, adding that his charity has managed to help several families in Halifax, York and Scotland, relocating them elsewhere.
Refugees told not to talk to media
According to the British media, these Afghan refugees are being housed in British hotels at a cost of about £1 million ($1.2 million) a day. Since the UK is going under a cost of living crisis, many question why the government is not doing more to get these families out of hotels.
Zazai said that dozens of refugees told him that either their case workers or Home Office officials told them not to talk to the media about their predicament if they want to receive a Council house. In addition to verbal warnings, an email was also reportedly sent to the refugees, telling them to avoid speaking to the press.
“That’s why many journalists contacted me, but I wasn’t much help since I could not get those in hotels to talk as they were scared of the authorities, although this is a free country and they shouldn’t be feeling uncomfortable when talking to journalists,” Zazai said.
The pressure on refugees is not limited to those in hotels, with many families placed in a home also feeling it. Recalling one incident he personally experienced, Zazai said a BBC crew had reached out to him to interview a family, but subsequently faced obstacles while trying to film the interview inside the family’s new home.
“The case worker who is supposed to support the family got involved, opposing the interview. Then, he called his office, who then contacted the Council about it and they reached out to the Home Office. We were shocked by their approach. We finally went to our charity’s office to film the interview. The officials probably want to cover up their failures,” Zazai said.
The housing crisis may yet worsen as hundreds of Ukrainian refugees, currently being hosted by their British sponsors, may add additional burden on local authorities who already complain about not having enough homes to meet demand.
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