Afghans who recently arrived in Britain after fleeing the Taliban’s takeover have asked to be sent back, casting doubt on 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 providing support so that they could “rebuild their lives, find work, pursue education and integrate into their communities”.
But a widespread shortage of housing means hotels have been ordered as temporary emergency accommodation for 7,000 Afghan refugees, with Interior Ministry officials admitting some will be detained in them for months.
Some refugees have already had enough. A doctor who has been working with the newly arrived Afghans for weeks but who requested anonymity said: “I have had a few patients who have told me they want to go home. A guy who was 67 kept going. to say, ‘I can not stand this anymore. I have to get out of this [hotel] room.’ “The general practitioner, 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 put him on medication and his wife because they were so sad. “
There are also health concerns for those being held in hotels following the evacuation from Kabul airport, 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, south-east London, said the lack of organized government support when 700 Afghans arrived in the district in August was “unforgivable”. “This was one of the most shocking government failures I have ever encountered,” he said.
Thorpe accused government officials of not providing adequate support or sending enough officials when hundreds of Afghans were initially placed in hotels in his neighborhood during their 10-day Covid quarantine.
He said: “There was a huge mismatch between the rhetoric of high-ranking government politicians and their actions to support these people.”
When the Greenwich Council told the government that they were running out of baby milk, Thorpe claims they were told that some would be delivered “in a few days”.
In Sheffield, where a five-year-old Afghan refugee fell to his death from a hotel window in August shortly after arriving in the UK, the local council is concerned about the hotels’ suitability to keep Afghan refugees. A spokesman said it had shared its concerns with the Interior Ministry but would not elaborate on what response it received.
Meanwhile, the Local Government Association, which represents 328 of the 333 councils in England, called on the Home Office to reduce confusion in data it sends to various locations over the actual number of Afghans and their needs. “The government needs to engage more fully with local authorities and share regular data on the number, needs and strengths of Afghan refugees and others recently resettled,” an LGA spokesman said.
Jill O’Leary, chief physician at the Helen Bamber Foundation, which works with 650 clients, said the situation was “confused and confused”, with some hotel contractors unaware that they were obliged to help Afghans register with a general practitioner and explain their rights. “When we consider people’s needs, there seems to be a blind spot in the Interior Ministry when it comes to vulnerability,” she said.
A spokesman for Medact, a charity that campaigns to protect human rights to health care, said they were concerned about the provisions for asylum seekers, including those under Operation Warm Welcome. They said: “The Interior Ministry has a legal duty to provide at least minimal support to otherwise needy asylum seekers, but arrangements by the Home Office and its contractors to house those waiting in temporary publicly funded housing are medically dangerous.”
The Afghan GP added that when Afghan arrivals were initially placed in hotels, there was “inadequate” medical care. She described an incident at a hotel where she found a malnourished disabled child who had not been registered with the medical authorities.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Britain’s largest and fastest emergency evacuation in recent history has helped over 15,000 people to safety and hotels remain a temporary measure to help accommodate those we brought here. It’s going to take time to find permanent housing for all, but we are urgently working with our partners to do so.
“Our aim is to support everyone who has resettled here to build a successful life in the UK, which 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 those temporarily accommodated in hotels have access to essential supplies, health care, education and universal credit. “