Afghan refugees were ordered out of UK hotels this week. So what happens to them now?

The UK opened its arms to thousands of refugees two years ago but many now risk homelessness

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 07: The London Mayor's Welcome Message to the Afghan Refugees is displayed at Piccadilly Circus on September 07, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Joe Maher/Getty Images)
London Mayor Sadiq Khan's welcome message to Afghan refugees in September 2021. (Getty)

Afghan refugees airlifted to safety after the Taliban took over their country in 2021 have been told to leave hotel accommodation provided by the government.

Some have found stable homes, but many risk homelessness as councils already facing a domestic housing crisis have struggled to find suitable, stable housing they can settle in.

What will happen to them next? Hannah Fearn finds out

Why have so many Afghan refugees been staying in hotels? When Taliban forces took control of Afghanistan in August 2021, Britain committed to supporting about 21,000 refugees to resettle in the UK. Many had supported the British military as it propped up the former Afghan government. When they arrived in the UK they were offered temporary homes in hotels while their claims for asylum were processed.

What is happening to them this week? The government imposed a deadline for all Afghan refugees to be moved out of hotels by the end of Thursday after two years of delays finding suitable long-term accommodation for them.

Wait, why has this taken two years? The UK housing crisis means local authorities have struggled to find appropriate homes for them, either in social or private rented housing – particularly for large family groups who want to stay together. Councils have spent a lot of time and money trying to encourage more private landlords to support refugees, but with limited success.

So the government has abandoned its promises to refugees? That’s exactly what those working with Afghan arrivals say, although they admit it’s been tough to meet its promises because of the UK’s current economic circumstances and the unpredicted arrival of 174,000 refugees from war-torn Ukraine. Sara Nathan, co-founder of Refugees at Home, told Yahoo News: “Of course the government hasn't met its promised obligations to the Afghans.The combination of a housing shortage, cost of living increases and the hostile environment mean it hasn't fulfilled its responsibilities in this area.”

What happened when the refugees were told to move? According to experts it has caused distress among families, many of whom presented to their local authorities as homeless. Yvonne Kachikoti, head of resettlement at the charity Refugee Action, told Yahoo News that the decision to remove hotel accommodation had “a terrible effect on many people’s wellbeing”. “We saw family breakups and suicidal ideation increase,” she added.

But everyone has now been found somewhere stable to live now, right? Not yet. According to veterans minister Johnny Mercer, only a “tiny number” of refugees remain in hotels and he guaranteed that “nobody would be sleeping rough”. However, Refugee Action says that about a third of the 300 refugees they are working with in the North West are still looking for somewhere to live and may declare themselves homeless this week.

So would the refugees rather stay in hotels? No, conditions in the hotels have been bad with large families sharing single rooms. There is no access to kitchen facilities to cook their own food despite meals now only being provided twice a day. Mental health has reportedly declined among hotel residents.

What other services have been withdrawn? Security has been stepped down too, meaning hotels with refugee residents have become more vulnerable to attacks from right-wing, anti-immigration protesters.

What do Afghan community groups say? Dr Nooralhaq Nasimi, founder and director of the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association – himself a refugee who came to the UK two decades ago – says the deadline has actually been beneficial for some hotel residents who had been turning down housing offers based on location or size. “Most [refugees] accepted any offer that was made after the announcement,” he told Yahoo News. “This plan has helped people to rethink about their future, instead of continuing to reject the offers because their families are too big.”

So what can the government do next? Charities want the government to maintain support for people in hotels if they haven’t been found suitable housing and work more closely with councils to fix the problem. One approach could be providing a rental guarantee for private landlords.

What about the future for refugees in the UK? Experts including the Refugee Council say a bigger investment in the UK’s refugee resettlement scheme, which is now accepting 300,000 people a year, is needed. They say this should include a new standardised scheme setting out every council’s responsibilities and allocated funding, granting local authorities time to secure housing and build up a proper team to help support refugees to integrate into British society.