Afghans who recently arrived in the UK after fleeing the Taliban takeover have called for their return, calling into question the success of Operation Warm Welcome, the government’s Afghan resettlement program.
It was launched by Boris Johnson on August 29 to help Afghan refugees arriving in the UK by supporting them so that they could ‘rebuild their lives, find work, continue their education and integrate into their local communities’.
However, a widespread lack of housing means that hotels have been seized as temporary emergency accommodation for 7,000 Afghan refugees, with Interior Ministry officials admitting that some will stay there for months.
Some refugees have had enough. One doctor, who has been working with the newly arrived Afghans for weeks but who requested anonymity, said: “Some patients told me they wanted to go home. One guy, who was 67, kept saying, ‘I can’t take this anymore. I have to get out of this [hotel] bedroom.’ The GP, an Afghan who fled the country in 2000 when the Taliban were in power, added: “Another said, ‘I just want my freedom from the hotel.’ I had to prescribe medicine for him and his wife because they were very upset. “
There are also concerns about medical care for detainees in hotels after the Kabul airport evacuation, with a charity describing confusion over access to local GPs.
A council leader described the government’s program as a “shocking failure.” Councilor Danny Thorpe of the Royal Borough of Greenwich in southeast London said the lack of organized government support when 700 Afghans arrived in the municipality in August was “inexcusable”. “This was one of the most shocking government failures I have encountered,” he said.
Thorpe accused government officials of not providing enough support or sending enough officials when hundreds of Afghans were initially housed in hotels in his district during the 10-day Covid quarantine.
He said: “There was a huge mismatch between the rhetoric of high-level government politicians and their actions to support those people.”
When the Greenwich council told the government that they were about to run out of baby milk, Thorpe says they were told some would be delivered “in a few days.”
In Sheffield, where a five-year-old refugee from Afghanistan fell and died from a hotel window in August shortly after arriving in the UK, the local council is concerned about the suitability of hotels to house Afghan refugees. A spokesman said he had shared his doubts with the Interior Ministry, but did not elaborate on the response he received.
Meanwhile, the Association of Local Governments, which represents 328 of England’s 333 councils, called on the Home Office to reduce confusion in the data it sends to different locations on the actual number of Afghans and their needs. “The government must engage more fully with local authorities and share regular information on the number, needs and strengths of Afghan refugees and other recently resettled people,” said an LGA spokesman.
Jill O’Leary, Senior Physician at the Helen Bamber Foundation, who is working with 650 clients, said the situation was “confusing and confusing” as some hotel contractors were unaware that they were required to help Afghans register with a GP and explain their rights. “When we consider people’s needs, there seems to be a blind spot with the Interior Ministry when it comes to vulnerability,” he said.
A spokesperson for Medact, a health charity that campaigns to protect human rights to health care, said they were concerned about provisions for asylum seekers, including those under Operation Warm Welcome. They said: “The Home Office has a legal obligation to provide at least minimal support to asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute, but the Home Office and its contractors arrange to house those waiting in temporary accommodation financed with public funds are medically dangerous. “
The Afghan GP added that initially, when Afghan arrivals were staying in hotels, medical assistance was “inadequate.” He described an incident in a hotel where he found a malnourished disabled child who had not been registered with medical authorities.
A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘The UK’s largest and fastest emergency evacuation in recent history helped more than 15,000 people to safety, and hotels remain a temporary measure to help accommodate those who we brought here. It will take time to find a permanent home for everyone, but we are urgently working with our partners to do so.
“Our aim is to support all who resettle here so that they can build a successful life in the UK, and that is why we work around the clock to provide comprehensive support to families. This includes working closely with local authorities across the UK to ensure that all people temporarily staying in hotels have access to essential supplies, healthcare, education and universal credit. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism