Afghan families who have arrived in the UK in recent weeks are being left without access to essentials such as toothpaste, sanitary towels. nappies and medicines while in temporary hotels, a major refugee charity has warned.
The government’s claim that Afghan refugees are receiving a “warm welcome” in Britain has been put into question following warnings from the Refugee Council that many have not had their basic needs met or been given information about their future in the UK.
Local councillors and MPs have criticised a “lack of coordination and information” from central government, which they said had left them struggling to support the thousands of newly arrived Afghans currently being held in hotels.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said it was “staggering” that Afghans who served with the British military were being left without access to basic necessities after arriving in the UK.
“The government’s ‘operation warm welcome’ is not being very welcoming. Yet again, there is a failure of government planning. Ministers must urgently work with local authorities to ensure there is suitable accommodation and access to essentials,” he said.
Around 8,000 Afghans, more than half of them children, have been relocated to the UK in recent weeks as part of the evacuation programme for those who worked with the British military and government.
All arrivals have been required to complete a 10-day quarantine in hotels before they are moved into longer-term housing.
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The remaining 6,000 are instead being housed in temporary accommodation, known as “holding” hotels, for an indefinite period.
The Refugee Council, which is working with newly arrived Afghans in Yorkshire and the Humber, said that along with not having access to essentials, many of those in hotels have no access to cash, with some families being without it for up to two weeks and having to try to take essential items from shops without having money to pay for them
New arrivals also have no support to maintain contact with family members, including children, in Afghanistan, and little or no resources for children such as toys, and limited access to outside play space, according to the charity.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the charity, said it was “alarming” that traumatised families and children had been left “without basics” and with “little information about what is happening to them”.
“It is vital that interim accommodation is safe and appropriate, to help them recover and rebuild their lives. The best place for these families is in family homes, embedded in communities, and this outcome must be achieved as soon as possible,” he added.
Some councils and public health agencies were not informed by the government that Afghan families had been placed in their area and have not put support in place for them, the Refugee Council said.
Peter Barnett, lead officer of refugee resettlement at Coventry Council, told The Independent the council had had properties ready for around 30 Afghan refugees for the last two weeks, but that no families had been moved in yet – which he described as “crass”.
Meanwhile, the Home Office has moved 66 Afghans into a hotel in Coventry to quarantine – but failed to inform the local council, he said.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous. I only found out about it when I heard they didn’t have essential items. The hotel staff are calling on local charities to donate stuff – nappies, formula, toothpaste, personal items like that. This is all supposed to be covered,” he added.
Labour’s John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington, said a number of hotels in his constituency, near Heathrow, were being used to temporarily house Afghan refugees – but that he and the local authorities were receiving a lack of information.
“We want to support them all we can, but we’re getting no information from central government about what support the families have got, and there are concerns being expressed about certain basics,” he told The Independent.
“I’m deeply worried. These people have gone through enough. They need a bit of security about what their futures are. We want to make sure they’re not trapped within these hotels month after month.”
Cllr Nick Forbes, chair of the Local Government Association’s asylum, refugee and migration task force, said councils had raised concerns about the use of hotels and stressed the need for “better coordination” if they have to be used.
He also said councils “urgently need key details” of the new Afghan resettlement scheme, which has pledged to resettle 5,000 in its first year but has not yet started.
A Home Office spokesperson said it was “working urgently” to ensure that Afghans evacuated to the UK received the support they need to “rebuild their lives, find work, pursue education, and integrate into their local communities”.
They added: “Due to the unprecedented demand, we have had to use temporary accommodation such as hotels. While in hotels all families are given full board meals and any essential basic items they need. We will be issuing cash cards to all those staying in temporary hotel accommodation and are ensuring emergency cash is available to those who need it in the interim.
“So far over 100 councils have agreed to house Afghans and we are working with them to provide long term housing and support. We have already committed £200m to meet the cost of the first year of the Afghanistan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme.