LONDON (Arabnews): UK councils have asked for a deadline on evicting Afghan refugees from hotels to be extended, saying the current plans will leave people homeless.
The Guardian reported that senior council leaders told Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer that they lack housing in which to place Afghan refugees, many of whom worked with British forces or the embassy in Kabul before the fall of the country to the Taliban in 2021.
Thousands of Afghans are living in temporary hotel accommodation, at great cost to the UK taxpayer. Many have been told they must leave this accommodation in August.
In a conference call on Thursday, Mercer was told that the scheme to house Afghan refugees in the UK, dubbed Operation Warm Welcome, should be renamed Operation Cold Shoulder given how it is treating people and their families.
Attendees said Mercer had promised that hotel rooms would be kept as a “buffer” to house any further influx of refugees to the UK, but added that he had “few answers” about how the scheme to house Afghans permanently should work, and “no real perception of the housing crisis” facing Britain.
Peter Marland, leader of Milton Keynes Council, told The Guardian: “We already have 800 local families in temporary accommodation and not nearly enough homes to meet demand.
“We have also had 50 Afghan nationals present as homeless in the few months alone, some of whom found places to live but were then evicted.
“Rents are rising, some landlords are selling homes because of rising mortgages, and the money from central government might get us a handful of extra properties as most. The situation is really difficult and I can’t see any clear solution.”
Local councils have received additional funds from the central government to move and rehouse many Afghan migrants, but questions remain over how long that money will be provided for and who is responsible for moving them.
Joanna Midgley, deputy leader of Manchester City Council, said: “Our staff have put in so much work to do the best for Afghan people here, and this arbitrary deadline, and the threat of eviction, threatens to undo it.
“There needs to be more flexibility and more time — and that was the message I got from pretty much everyone on the call.
“It’s not that we don’t want to get Afghan people out of hotels — since May we’ve rehoused 40 percent of them.
“It’s just that we can’t suddenly find housing that doesn’t exist, or will be unaffordable when the extra funding to top up rents runs out.”
One Afghan refugee named Masood told The Guardian that people at the hotel he is staying at in Cardiff are under significant stress due to the looming deadline, and that many are spending “90 percent of their time looking for (alternative) accommodation.”
He said: “In the hotel lobby everyone is sitting together looking at Zoopla, Rightmove and other (housing) sites on their smartphones trying to find somewhere.”
Masood added that a lack of available work makes finding permanent accommodation even more difficult.
“If the government was unable to find housing for us all over the course of more than a year, with all its financial, human and technical resources, how can families who are unfamiliar with the system and the location be expected to find places in such a short notice time?” he said.
A Home Office spokesperson told The Guardian that hotels were “never designed to be long-term accommodation” for resettled Afghans, adding: “That is why we have announced a plan, backed by £285m ($366.5 million) of new funding, to speed up the resettlement of Afghan nationals into long-term homes.
“Extensive government support is available and we will continue to do all we can to help Afghan families as they rebuild their lives here.”