By Adam Bychawski: The Home Office has quietly U-turned on its commitment to find homes for Afghan refugees in the UK.
Victoria Atkins, the former minister for Afghan resettlement, made reassurances in November 2021 that “permanent accommodation is being sourced and will be provided for all Afghans evacuated to the UK”.
But on Monday, the Home Office wrote to the majority of the 9,000 Afghans still being temporarily housed in hotels telling them not to expect offers of permanent accommodation.
Afghans were told that the Home Office had ended a previous housing policy that promised them a maximum of two offers of “settled accommodation”
Instead, the letter said, “it is likely that most people will not receive an allocation through the new process, and we encourage you to find your own accommodation wherever possible”.
The department adds: “Households may [emphasis Home Office’s own] receive only one allocation of appropriate settled accommodation from the Home Office.”
The Home Office goes on to advise the refugees, many of whom are unlikely to speak English, to search for properties in the private rented sector on “websites like Rightmove, Zoopla, OpenRent”. They suggest Afghans should also speak to local council staff for help but concedes: “Not all councils will be able to support you.”
The latest guidance is in stark contrast to remarks made by then prime minister Boris Johnson in August 2021 when announcing “Operation Warm Welcome” for Afghans arriving in the UK.
“I am determined that we welcome them with open arms and that my government puts in place the support they need to rebuild their lives,” Johnson claimed. “We will never forget the brave sacrifice made by Afghans who chose to work with us, at great risk to themselves. We owe them, and their families, a huge debt.”
Just over 21,000 Afghans have been resettled in the UK under refugee schemes so far, the majority of whom were rescued from Kabul during a military operation in August 2021.
The government has found homes for 9,155 Afghans, but 9,483 remained in hotels at the end of 2022, according to the Home Office. Of those, half have been living there for more than a year and around half are children.
“We are deeply concerned about the approach taken by the Home Office, which is likely to lead to Afghans being left homeless and destitute on our streets”
In March, veterans minister Johnny Mercer announced that all hotels being used to house Afghans would be closed and that families would begin to receive three-month notices requiring them to leave at the end of April.
At the time, Mercer said that Afghans would receive “significant support from central and local government at every step as required… to find good, settled places to live in the longer term”.
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said: “We are deeply concerned about the approach taken by the Home Office, which is likely to lead to Afghans being left homeless and destitute on our streets. This is not how those who fled the Taliban and were promised a warm welcome in the UK should be treated.
“It is entirely unreasonable to expect Afghan refugees to suddenly move out of hotels without offering any suitable alternatives, when the reality is that finding affordable housing on the market is a real challenge. This risks causing great misery and anxiety for Afghan families who have already experienced trauma and upheaval.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Hotels are not, and were never designed to be, suitable long-term accommodation for Afghans resettled in the UK. That is why we have announced a plan, backed by £285 million of new funding, to speed up the resettlement of Afghans into long-term homes.
Where available, the Government will continue to make offers of suitable housing, which we strongly encourage Afghan families to accept. Where an offer cannot be made or is rejected, increased government support is available to help Afghan refugees find their own homes and begin rebuilding their lives here.”