LONDON: The UK Home Office has notified hundreds of Afghan refugees who have been living in London for 18 months that they must move 200 miles north to West Yorkshire within a week, the Guardian reported on Thursday.
They are among 9,000 Afghans who are living in temporary accommodation across the UK after fleeing the Taliban. They left their home country as part of Operation Pitting, which was launched in August 2021 to get British nationals and Afghans who had worked and fought alongside UK forces out of the country after the Taliban seized control.
“We will never forget the brave sacrifice made by Afghans who chose to work with us at great risk to themselves,” former Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at the time.
Now, the Home Office has told 40 families, including 150 children, who have been living in a hotel in Kensington for over a year that they must move to another hotel in Wetherby, near Leeds.
Some of the refugees, including a former general and translators who assisted British Army troops, told the Guardian that they are refusing to move because their children, who have already experienced great trauma, would now be forced to go through the upheaval of changing schools in the middle of the academic year.
Others have found jobs in London and are worried about giving them up and having to find work in a new location.
Most the Afghans living in the hotel have decided to protest against the relocation plan, one of the refugees told the Guardian.
Hamidullah Khan, a former parliamentary adviser in Kabul who came to the UK with his wife and three sons, said the government has broken a series of promises it made to refugees that it would assist them in finding permanent housing.
“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.’ But we didn’t choose this hotel or this area to live in, the Home Office did,” Khan 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.”
In Wetherby, meanwhile, some residents said they oppose the decision to move Afghan refugees into a local hotel. One person told the Leeds Live website that the government was acting in an “underhand and secretive” manner.
Under the UK’s Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act, the Home Office is obliged to “safeguard and promote the welfare of children when it makes any immigration decision.”
A Home Office spokesperson told the Guardian that the refugees were told months ago that they would have to move north.
“While hotels do not provide a long-term solution, they do offer safe, secure and clean accommodation,” the spokesperson said. “We will continue to bring down the number of people in bridging hotels, moving people into more sustainable accommodation as quickly as possible.
“Occasionally, families may be moved from a hotel scheduled for closure to another hotel. In these instances, families are given appropriate notice of a move and are supported by their local authority. We are proud this country has provided homes for more than 7,500 Afghan evacuees but there is a shortage of local housing accommodation for all.”
According to briefings given to local councils, the government aims to move all Afghan refugees into permanent accommodation by the end of the year.