Homes for Afghan refugees lie empty for weeks as thousands of families remain stuck in holding hotels

·4 min read
Home Affairs Select Committee chair Yvette Cooper said there were ‘too many examples’ of housing for Afghans ‘sitting empty’ while families remain in hotels  (Getty Images)
Home Affairs Select Committee chair Yvette Cooper said there were ‘too many examples’ of housing for Afghans ‘sitting empty’ while families remain in hotels (Getty Images)

Homes intended to house Afghan refugees have been sitting empty for weeks as thousands of families remain stuck in holding hotels.

Councils have said they are “frustrated” that properties they procured for the Home Office’s scheme for resettling former interpreters more than a month ago are yet to be filled. One council said it was considering withdrawing houses from the programme because of the delays.

The Independent understands there are hundreds of properties across the UK that have sat unoccupied for weeks after councils put them forward to house refugees under the Afghan Relocation Assistance Policy (Arap), which is designed to provide refuge to Afghans who worked for the British military and their immediate family members.

Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee Yvette Cooper said she had heard “too many examples” of accommodation for Afghan refugees “sitting empty simply because of delays in the Home Office system” and urged ministers to “speed things up”.

One senior local government source said a number of houses had been withdrawn from the scheme because councils have not been able to hold them empty for long periods when there are housing needs elsewhere.

There are currently about 7,000 Afghans living in “holding hotels” after being evacuated from Kabul in August, according to figures provided to MPs by permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft three weeks ago. The Home Office declined to provide The Independent with updated figures.

Charities have raised alarm about the living conditions in these temporary hotels, warning that some families had been left without access to essentials such as toothpaste, nappies and medicines.

Ministers have said the Afghans will remain there until permanent homes can be found for them by local authorities. More than 100 councils have offered to help with accommodation.

However, homes offered by councils have not been taken up weeks later. Peter Barnett, head of migration and libraries at Coventry Council, told The Independent that two of the properties the council has offered have been empty since the start of September.

“They told us they’d move families in within 48 hours of us having properties ready, but we’re still waiting after weeks. It’s not acceptable and it’s very frustrating,” he said.

“We’ve been given no explanation for the delay. It’s got to a point where we’re considering withdrawing these properties from the scheme so they can be used for other housing needs in the city.”

Homes allocated to Afghan refugees in Leeds are also still empty, according to Councillor Mary Harland, the council’s executive member for communities.

"It’s disappointing that despite councils such as ourselves doing all we can to properly house refugees and welcome them to Britain, the government is leaving them stuck in hotels while houses are available. Either the Home Office lacks compassion for them or it lacks competence,” she said.

In another case, Sandwell Council, which has made an initial offer of accommodation for 20-25 Afghan households under the Arap scheme, said that of the 11 properties it has already made available, only two have so far been filled.

Yvette Cooper told The Independent it made “absolutely no sense” that families with young children were “stuck in hotels while proper accommodation stands empty because of Home Office delays”.

The Home Affairs Select Committee chair added: “Local organisations have been working hard to get accommodation for Afghan families who have been forced to flee the Taliban because they worked for British armed forces, but we’ve heard too many examples of that accommodation sitting empty simply because of delays in the Home Office system.”

The committee has been pressing the Home Office to provide a timetable for getting people into the housing that has been provided, but is yet to receive any answers, Ms Cooper said.

“They need to speed things up so that families can start to settle after the traumatic experiences they have been through,” she added.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the government must “iron out all issues around data collection that appear to have slowed things down, and councils must be encouraged to come forward with appropriate accommodation as a matter of urgency”.

“Too many families remain stuck in hotels for very long periods, meaning it takes longer for children to get into schools and can also prevent people accessing healthcare,” he added.

“We appreciate the government had to work at speed to support those coming from Afghanistan but it’s vital more is done to ensure that Afghan families are able to actually get the warm welcome they’ve been promised by the prime minister.

When asked how many homes intended for Afghans had been left unfilled for weeks a government spokesperson declined to provide a figure, but did not deny that there were hundreds.

They added: “There is a huge effort underway to get families into permanent homes so they can settle and rebuild their lives, and to ensure those still temporarily accommodated in hotels have access to healthcare, education, any essential items they need and employment opportunities or universal credit.

“The ongoing role of local authorities is vital to these efforts and we are grateful for their continued offers of support and housing but the accommodation offered must meet the needs of those being resettled.”

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