LONDON: Fears are rising that Afghan refugees in the UK could become homeless over new plans to move them from hotel accommodation.
The government is set to offer the refugees new housing, giving those temporarily in hotels a minimum of three months to move out, in a bid to move all Afghan refugees from hotels by the end of the year.
There are currently around 9,000 Afghans living in hotels in the UK at a cost to the taxpayer of £1.2 million ($1.47 million) per day.
Government sources sought to assuage fears that thousands could be made homeless and forced to turn to local authorities for support, adding that “all individuals and families” would be helped into permanent homes “regardless of whether they choose their offer of accommodation.”
There has been frustration in some quarters of Whitehall that Afghan families have turned down permanent accommodation in some parts of the UK because they preferred to live somewhere else, holding out for “better” options to become available.
One source told The Times: “Eighteen months after we invited these people to Britain, many still find their lives on hold living in hotel rooms.
“We will be announcing a new support package to help them move into homes so they can build a proper future.”
Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council support organization, told The Guardian: “We are deeply concerned about many elements of these plans, in particular the risk that they could lead to people who fled the Taliban in Afghanistan being left homeless and destitute on the streets of Britain.
“This is not how those who were promised a warm welcome in the UK should be treated. Hotels are not the right place for refugees to live, but the fact that thousands of Afghans have been left in them for months on end is a consequence of government mismanagement and a failure to work successfully in partnership with local councils and other agencies to find suitable housing.”
Peymana Assad, a Labour councilor of Afghan origin from London, told The Guardian that the government had “failed on promises” made to Afghan refugees.
“With no proper plan in place to house Afghans, they have wasted taxpayers’ money on hotels, held Afghan refugee lives in limbo, caused untold damage to the mental well-being of individuals who stood side by side with British troops in Afghanistan, to then, in the end, throw these Afghan families out into the wilderness of homelessness, in the country they were brought to, not out of choice but necessity,” she said.
A further 50,000 asylum-seekers from other countries are also currently in hotels across the country, with different plans being drawn up for their future accommodation.
Two Royal Air Force bases, at Scampton in Lincolnshire and Wethersfield in Essex, have been identified as potential future housing sites for them.
The plans are set to be announced as the UK government steps up efforts to pass into law a new bill on illegal immigration.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has courted controversy after pledging to stop the flow of small boats carrying migrants illegally across the English Channel, with plans such as swift deportations, including to Rwanda, and permanent bans from entering the UK for people found to have done so against the law, to be introduced.
One amendment proposed for the bill suggests putting blocks on courts’ ability to prevent deportations, while Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, has suggested the proposals risk breaking international law.
Earlier this week Sunak told MPs: “It’s also important that we abide by our international obligations. This is a country and a government that does follow the law. Of course, that’s important.”
He added, though, that the bill would be “a tough piece of legislation, the likes of which we’ve never seen.”