Afghan refugees could be accommodated in UK hotels for up to a year, advises | Immigration and asylum

Council leaders are drawing up contingency plans for thousands of refugees evacuated from Kabul to stay in hotel rooms for up to a year, while criticizing ministers for slow progress in finding long-term housing. term for people who fled Afghanistan.

More than two months after the airlift to the UK, around 7,000 refugees are staying in hotel rooms and have not been given any indication of when permanent accommodation is likely to materialize.

Local government officials warn it is not safe to keep large numbers of children in hotels long-term, and say the uncertainty compounds the trauma they experienced when they fled with their children. family in August.

By launching Operation Warm Welcome at the end of August, Boris Johnson pledged to support the 8,500 Afghan refugees brought to the UK to rebuild their lives in Britain. Committing the government to provide the necessary support, he added: “We will never forget the courageous sacrifice made by the Afghans who chose to work with us, risking their lives.

However, council heads in areas of the UK with refugees in around 80 hotels have complained that planning and funding failures make this welcome impossible to provide.

Although council leaders have expressed a desire to do everything in their power to support the refugees, they list a number of complaints regarding the management of the resettlement program. Several councils said they had not been warned in advance that the Home Office was blocking hotels in their area and could not start preparing services until the refugees had not already arrived.

Some said there was no Home Ministry support to conduct an immediate needs assessment of post-quarantine arrivals, and said there had been only one visit by staff from the Ministry of the Interior during the six weeks. In the absence of clarity on where the refugees will be housed in the long term, the organization of places in schools has become complex.

A central London council has hired additional staff to work with refugees in hotels on six-month contracts. “We’re planning a year, to be honest. We don’t think it will be quick, ”the official said, asking not to be named to avoid risking local tensions. Officials from another central London council said the Home Office had told them to expect to host refugees in hotels for nine months.

Some refugees were accommodated in good hotels, while others were placed in former student accommodation and cheap hostels referred to as “last resort accommodation”. Hotels are becoming increasingly unsuitable for families because they cannot offer structured activities for children, city staff warn.

“There are children in a lot of hotels who have nothing to do; their mental well-being is not achieved, they become frustrated and have fun. We could and should do better, ”said a charity worker after visiting hotels in London.

A central London council official said: “There appears to have been a complete breakdown in communication with local government. We only received a few hours’ notice or in some cases the refugees had already arrived at hotels before we knew they were coming. There was no one to check that people had milk and what they needed to feed their babies; we intervened to offer this basic welcome. We do our best, but we really care about the health and well-being of people. “

Nick Forbes, the head of Newcastle City Council, who heads the Local Government Association’s task force on asylum, refugees and migration, said: “I don’t feel the government is considering this. as an urgent priority. I’m afraid that now they’re in hotels, they’re out of sight and out of mind.

Most of the refugees traveled with only a small bag, with little more than the clothes they were wearing when they left. The councils were forced to set up Amazon wishlists calling on donors to help purchase essentials such as children’s pajamas and underwear.

Volunteers from the Baby Basics charity in Sheffield pack baby clothes, cots, toys and accessories for Afghan refugees. Photograph: Christopher Thomond / The Guardian

The hotels provide three meals a day and basic needs. Funding has been provided for access to the NHS, and additional money has been pledged to pay for school places. A lump sum payment of £ 28 per person per day is due to the councils for the initial relocation period, but has not yet been paid. The authorities fear that this will not be enough to cover the social needs, education, translation, winter clothing and other needs of the refugees. Most have not brought any money with them and hope to start working.

About 4,000 of the refugees are accommodated in hotels in London. Some hotels accommodate a mix of tourists and refugees, while others only accommodate Afghans.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said finding long-term accommodation for 7,000 people was quite possible even though only half of the UK’s 343 local authorities offered accommodation for 60 people. “That only makes 12 houses each – that should be doable, right?” “

Georgia Gould, Chairman of the London Councils and Head of the Camden Council, said: “As London Boroughs we are committed to welcoming people who have been through a traumatic situation, but we were truly disappointed with the lack of of planning and communication of the Ministry of the Interior. . “

Elizabeth Campbell, Head of Council for Kensington and Chelsea, paid tribute to the wave of voluntary support for refugees in the borough and said: pick up speed. “

A government spokesperson said: “The largest and fastest emergency evacuation in recent UK history has brought more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan to the safety of the UK . There is now a huge effort underway for families to settle down and rebuild their lives, and to ensure that those still temporarily accommodated in hotels have access to healthcare, education, all amenities. essential items they need and to employment opportunities or universal credit. . “

A government website has been established to facilitate the processing of offers of public support.

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