Afghan refugees told to leave Londonsay they lost jobs and school places

KABUL (Agenices): Afghan refugee families who were told by the Home Office to uproot their lives in London and relocate 200 miles away say their children’s education and health are being severely damaged.
In a challenge to claims made this week by the veterans minister, Johnny Mercer, they say that children as young as five years old and three GCSE pupils have not been found school places after being relocated in February from Kensington to a bridging hotel in Wetherby, on the outskirts of Leeds. Some of the refugees, who include former elite soldiers, interpreters and political advisers who worked alongside the UK authorities in Kabul, say doctors’ appointments, operations and jobs have been lost because of the move.
They face being forced to leave their latest hotel after the government announced this week that up to 8,000 Afghans in hotels or serviced accommodation could be given three months’ notice from April to move out. The refugees’ testimony appears to contradict the words of Mercer, who told fellow MPs this week that the education and health needs of Afghan families were being met.
“Operation Warm Welcome has ensured all those relocated to the UK through safe and legal routes have been able to access the vital health, education and employment support they need to integrate into our society,” Mercer told the Commons.
Speaking to the Guardian in the grounds of the modern three-star hotel in Wetherby, Hamidullah Khan, a former parliamentary adviser in Kabul who was evacuated to the UK with his wife and three sons, said his five-year-old son Ibrahim had no school place in Yorkshire.
“Before we left London for Wetherby, we kept asking the Home Office about schools for our children,” he said. “We have now moved and look, we were right, there were few school plans in place. Ibrahim and others must be given a chance to become part of this society.”
About 40 Afghan families living in a bridging hotel near the Victoria and Albert Museum were ordered to move to Wetherby in February, leading to protests outside Downing Street and legal action by the residents. Eight Afghan families are living in the hotel in Wetherby, on an A-road a five-minute walk outside a thriving town centre.
Other families who were staying in Kensington have been moved to alternative hotels in Yorkshire, while some are living on friends’ floors in London so their children can complete their education.
Since being taken over by the Home Office, most of the Wetherby hotel’s signs have been covered up amid security concerns over anti-migrant demonstrations. The grounds and the building are monitored by at least two security guards.
Inside the hotel, there are signs printed on pages of A4 paper laying out strict meal times for the residents and offering housing advice in Pashto and English. Paintings and drawings from dozens of refugee children adorn the walls. Nearly all of the facilities including bars and conference rooms have been closed.
Khan, like others living in the Wetherby hotel, is travelling to London for part of every week so he can hold down a job as a cab driver.
He was among several hotel residents who raised health concerns, saying they had been told to register with a GP in Leeds city centre, which can be reached after a bus journey of an hour and 15 minutes.
Three GCSE pupils staying in the Wetherby hotel have been told they will not be able to complete their studies in Yorkshire.
Yalda Nadiri, 18, who was studying GCSEs in maths, English, chemistry, physics and biology in London in the hope of one day becoming a doctor, said she was deceived by Home Office officials who reassured her that she would have a school place. “In Afghanistan, the Taliban do not want girls to get their education. But here it is the same for me. They [the Home Office] ordered my family to leave London, promised us schools, and once we moved said ‘we do not have any space for you’,” she said. “They lied to us about our education.” Nadiri qualified to come to the UK because her father was a security operative for the National Crime Agency in Kabul for 15 years. She has learned to speak near-perfect English since her arrival 20 months ago. She said she had been thriving in a Hammersmith school but now faced waiting until September before beginning the academic year again.
“I have lost my schoolfriends from London. All the days here seem the same. I feel so sad,” she said.
Her father, who has been waiting for an NHS medical procedure in London for 18 months, said he had been told that he would have to go to the back of the queue. “I am in pain, but I have no choice,” he said.
Many Afghan refugees have struggled to find private rented flats because they have low income and no credit history, and are unable to build credit history because they have no permanent address.
Khan said the Home Office should stop paying millions of pounds in hotel fees and instead act as a guarantor so the families could afford to rent places of their own.
“The Home Office is wasting so much money. The government pays out for this huge hotel, and yet most of it stands empty. There are security guards outside day and night. That cash could be better used helping us to find homes.
We do not want to live here, eating the same food day after day. We want to be independent,” he said. The Home Office declined to say how much it was paying to use the Wetherby hotel, and it did not respond directly to claims that officials had lied to Afghan refugees.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “This week we have announced substantial extra support to help Afghans into settled accommodation, putting an end to the insecurity that comes with living in hotels. The responsibility for providing school places rests with the receiving local authority, which has a legal obligation to allocate for a child in their catchment area.