The Refugee Council is calling on the Government to do more to make sure all Afghan refugees are given the best possible chance of building a positive future in the UK.
There are currently 8,000 Afghans, more than half of them children, who have come here as part of the evacuation programme for those who worked with the British military and government. There are 3,000 Afghans who arrived prior to the evacuation effort awaiting a decision on their claim for refugee protection. The Government has also committed to bringing another 5,000 Afghans to the UK this year as part of a new resettlement scheme.
The Refugee Council, which works with many of people who have fled Afghanistan, recognises the government is working at speed but is concerned that newly evacuated refugees are not always getting the support they need – or the warm welcome they deserve. The vast majority have been put in temporary hotel accommodation, where many have faced a number of challenges:
- No access to essentials such as sanitary products, toothpaste, nappies or medicines.
- No access to information about what is going to happen to them – such as a welcome or induction pack – and little understanding of the situation or the process.
- 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.
- No support to maintain contact with family members, including children, in Afghanistan.
- Little or no resources for children such as toys or craft materials and limited access to outside play space.
Some councils and public health agencies were not informed by government that Afghan families had been placed in their area and have not put support in place for them. In some places, local charities and the voluntary sector have stepped in to ensure essentials and medicines are given to the families but this has been variable.
The Refugee Council believes the best possible place for Afghan families and all refugees is to live in their own accommodation in the community, and this must be achieved as soon as possible. It says consideration should be given to easing the rules on the benefit cap and Local Housing Allowance would to assist more local councils to find housing.
The charity is calling for a comprehensive package of integration support for all families in hotels and temporary accommodation, including access to health and mental health services, education, information and advice, assistance with opening a bank account, accessing benefits and support in getting to know their local community. All families who have had to wait for a cash allowance must have it backdated.
n the longer term, the new Afghan Citizens Resettlement programme needs to be implemented quickly, with extra financial support provided for councils to enable them to support families to successfully settle in local communities. This should include support to access English Language lessons, comprehensive help to find sustainable employment, including skills training, and access to culturally appropriate mental health services.
The Refugee Council is also urging government to prioritise the 3,213 Afghans already in the UK waiting for a decision on their claim for refugee status. It is calling for the Home Office to make swift decisions on their asylum claims so they know what their future holds, rather than forcing them to live in a state of desperate limbo, and that nobody is returned to Afghanistan.
Under the Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill, anyone arriving from Afghanistan who was not part of the evacuation process, or was not able access the resettlement schemes, could be prosecuted and sent to prison for having entered the UK unlawfully. This Bill will slam the door in the face of many Afghans fleeing persecution and oppression and the charity wants the government to rethink its proposals and extend protection to all Afghans irrespective of how they arrived in the UK.
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said:
“The Government has worked hard to respond to this unprecedented situation, but it is alarming traumatised families and children have been left without basics, such as sanitary products and medicine, 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.
“Too many refugees and people seeking asylum are forced to live under conditions that damage their health and wellbeing, including being forced to live on less than £5 day, as part of the Government’s hostile environment. All refugees must be treated with dignity and given a warm welcome rather than a cold reception.
“Quick decisions need to be made for the more than 3,000 Afghans in the asylum system. We continue to call on the Government to re-think its harsh, unfair and ineffective Borders Bill and give those fleeing oppressors, such as the Taliban, a fair hearing on British soil regardless of how someone reaches our shores.”