LONDON: Two Afghan refugee girls who arrived in Britain following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021 have been moved out of London weeks before taking their school-leaving exams by the UK Home Office, it was revealed on Saturday.
An Observer report said the two 16-year-old students at Fulham Cross Girls School in the city had been due to sit their GCSE exams, which start in the UK on May 15, but have been notified, along with their families, that they must leave London.
Their headteacher, Victoria Tully, told the newspaper she was “heartbroken” by the decision, adding the pair — and 13 other Afghan girls who enrolled at the school following their evacuation — would not find a school to take them in, or which would be using the same exam boards or textbooks.
The two girls and their families have been living in so-called “bridging accommodation” in a hotel, according to the Observer, but have been told they will be relocated by the end of March.
“I am heartbroken, these children have overcome unbelievable adversity, and despite living in a horrible hotel their work ethic has been through the roof, to take their GCSEs away seems barbaric,” Tully told the newspaper.
“The girls spoke no English when they arrived, but have blossomed due to their sunny natures and incredible hard work,” she said.
“One of the girls, Zara, came to me very upset last week and said: ‘Miss, they are moving us, please don’t let them.’”
According to the report, Zara, who hopes to become an engineer, was due to take exams in English, mathematics and science, but is now being relocated to Northamptonshire — more than 60 miles away.
British passport-holder Adib Kochai, Zara’s father, told the Observer: “I told local council officials I would rather sleep on the streets than go to Northampton, my wife is disabled and very ill and waiting for an operation in London, my daughter is going to take her exams. I said: ‘Please, please keep us here.’”
Along with his disabled wife and Zara, Kochai also cares for three other daughters, three sons and a granddaughter in a hotel where conditions are “very bad” he said.
Lawyers for them and other “vulnerable” families who were relocated to London from Afghanistan during the evacuation program in 2021 have slammed the decision as “disgraceful” and made without “consideration given to individual needs.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office said all local authorities where Afghan refugees are moved to have a “legal obligation” to provide a school place within appropriate catchment areas within three weeks to avoid disruption.
“We are proud this country has provided homes for more than 7,500 Afghan evacuees, but there is a shortage of local authority housing for all in London and hotels do not provide a long-term solution,” the spokesperson said.