A new report published today by the Refugee Council reveals how the UK government is failing to fulfil its promise of a ‘warm welcome’ to Afghans who stood alongside British forces as Kabul fell to the Taliban two years ago.
The report, What Happened to the Warm Welcome?, is based on Home Office data, policy analysis and testimonies. It highlights a series of failures of the so-called ‘Operation Warm Welcome’. The publication of the report coincides with the eviction of thousands of Afghan evacuees from hotels, leaving them to face the prospect of homelessness.
British forces depended on local people during the conflict in Afghanistan and committed to offer those it evacuated sanctuary in the UK. The Government pledged to provide them with support to rebuild their lives. Now the Government’s actions have left thousands of men, women and children trapped in limbo, with nowhere permanent to live, while thousands more remain stuck in Afghanistan or Pakistan unable to reach the UK safely.
The report exposes several key failures in the implementation of Operation Warm Welcome:
- Only 54 Afghans have been newly resettled under the Government’s flagship scheme, not the promised 5,000. (This statistic excludes ACRS pathway 1 because those under ACRS pathway 1 arrived in the UK as part of the evacuation before the ACRS resettlement schemes were launched. They were then subsequently transferred onto the schemes after their arrival in the UK. Therefore, they were not newly resettled.)
- This is compared to over 8,000 Afghans who arrived in the past year by crossing the Channel in small boats out of desperation. For every Afghan who managed to arrive through a resettlement scheme, almost 90 resorted to risking their lives at sea.
- Thousands of Afghan evacuees initially housed in temporary hotel accommodation now face the threat of eviction by the end of August, leaving many vulnerable to homelessness.
- Afghan families remain torn apart, as the Home Office has failed to establish a clear process for the majority of Afghan refugees to reunite with family members who were left behind in the evacuation.
- Afghans crossing by boat to reach safety in the UK will now be prohibited from ever claiming asylum in the UK and be subject to detention and removal.
The report calls on the UK Government to urgently address these issues and fulfil its commitment to protect and house Afghan refugees.
Key recommendations include:
- Ensuring that all Afghan refugees are supported to find permanent housing before leaving their hotel accommodation.
- Halting evictions until permanent accommodation is secured for those still in hotels.
- Implementing a national strategy to coordinate housing issues across all local authorities to cater to the needs of the entire population of concern.
- Facilitating family reunions for Afghan evacuees and ensuring clarity on the process.
- Building a functional mechanism for refugees on the ACRS pathway to reunite with their family members.
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said:
“Operation Pitting rescued Afghans from the Taliban, but Operation Warm Welcome has left them out in the cold. Hotel evictions risk pushing traumatised families onto the streets, while thousands more remain stuck abroad unable to reach the UK safely.
“The Government must urgently make good on its commitment of relocating and housing the Afghan men, women and children who stood resolutely with us. After risking everything for the UK, they should not be forced to make dangerous boat journeys to get here or facing the grim reality of sleeping rough in the UK.
“We must uphold our pledge to give Afghans a genuine ‘warm welcome’ with functioning resettlement schemes and family reunion mechanisms, and suitable plans for long-term accommodation in the UK. Our Afghan allies deserve security and certainty, not betrayal.”