Afghanistan: refugees who fled Taliban given three months to vacate UK hotels under new government plans
Afghan refugees will be provided with new accommodation by the government - but if they fail to accept an offer of housing, they could face homelessness.
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Announcing the plan on Tuesday (28 March), veterans’ minister Johnny Mercer said that the £1 million daily cost to the taxpayer of housing around 8,000 Afghans is “unsustainable”. He told the House of Commons that long-term residency in hotels has prevented Afghans “from properly putting down roots, committing to employment, [and] integrating into communities, and is creating uncertainty as they look to rebuild their lives in the United Kingdom.”
The MP said that the government will begin writing to Afghan individuals and families currently housed in “bridging accommodation” at the end of April, giving them a minimum of three months’ notice before eviction. Mercer also confirmed that refugees will, with “significant support from central and local government at every step”, either be offered a property or given help to find one. But, if they fail to accept an offer of housing, they will be left to find something independently.
Mercer, a former army officer, acknowledged that there is a debt owed to Afghans who assisted British forces during the war. He said: “There are veterans across this country enjoying normal lives today because of the service and sacrifice of this cohort in keeping them safe in Afghanistan.” This, he continued, is one of the reasons some £35 million of new funding will be given to councils to help assist in moving people from hotels into new accommodation across England.
“Whilst this government realises our significant responsibilities to this cohort,” Mr Mercer continued, “there is a responsibility upon this group to take the opportunities that are offered under these schemes and integrate into UK society.”
He highlighted that if an offer of accommodation is turned down, no other will be “forthcoming”, because “at a time when there are many pressures on the taxpayer and the housing market, it is not right that people can choose to stay in hotels when other suitable accommodation is available.”
However, the move has already been criticised by charities, with Enver Solomon, chief executive of Refugee Council, commenting: “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.”
He agreed that hotels are “not the right place for refugees to live”, but said the fact that thousands of Afghans have been left in them is a “consequence of government mismanagement and a failure to work successfully in partnership with local councils”, rather than the fault of refugees.
“To expect councils to suddenly move them out of hotels by putting pressure on Afghan families risks causing great misery and anxiety for those who have already experienced trauma and upheaval,” Mr Solomon concluded.
The Labour Party has also criticised the plans, with shadow defence secretary John Healey claiming the government is “serving eviction notices on 8,000 Afghans – half of whom are children – with no guarantee they will be offered a suitable, settled place to live”.
But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson earlier pushed back against criticism, refuting claims that the government was finding ways to “boot out” Afghans from hotels. He said: “We’ve made a large commitment to them to support them in the UK to make a new life here and this will be the next stage of that.
“There will be a significant package of support that sits behind them to both help them find accommodation and help them fully integrate into their new community.”