Afghan Families forced out of London as UK balances on edge of financial crisis

Benedict Pignatelli for Distilled Post

Several Afghan families currently seeking asylum in the UK will take the government to court, after being told via text message they were to be relocated from London to the north of England. They were given little time to prepare, with many families having jobs in London, sick relatives in need of constant care, or children studying for their GCSEs. The sudden decision to relocate will further disrupt the lives of the Afghan refugees who came to the UK some eighteen months ago.

Marzia, 15, now studies online, and Najma, also 15, is being made to repeat Year 10. Marzia argued the hotel they were being kept in was ‘like a prison’, and not designed for people to live in for nearly two years.

The families of Marzia and Najma are not alone; a PhD student has asked the home secretary Suella Braverman to intervene in the relocation of him and his family. The man (who will remain anonymous) has been told to relocate 200 miles away to Wetherby, meaning he will be unable to receive his scholarship that he was awarded in September. The student remarked this was the fourth time they had been told to move.

Refugees not given the chance to assimilate

Although taking in refugees is undoubtedly a good moral move from the UK government, without proper resources and organisation put into the plan, the refugees will fail to assimilate into British society. Many people, including the student in question, could greatly benefit the UK if given the chance.

In terms of people with potential, a man who secures an Engineering PhD scholarship while battling with constant relocation and the after effects of fleeing a war-torn homeland, should be given as much help as possible.

Just a few weeks after his scholarship was announced in August 2021, the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson attempted (in vain) to block the student and his colleagues from coming to the UK, despite his education and previous work with the US making him a clear target for the Taliban.

Other refugees being made to move include an ex-General, and a translator for the British army. They fear they will be unable to find work in North Yorkshire, and their children will struggle to adjust. This fear is far from fanciful, considering it’s no secret migration to London from the north has been happening for hundreds of years and continues today. Finding housing, jobs and comfort for thousands of migrants at short notice is extremely improbable.

Eighteen months later, still no plan in sight

Hundreds of Afghan refugees are being told to relocate, including 150 children, who will, like Marzia and Najma, have to leave their school midway through the academic year. They have not yet been offered a guarantee of places in Wetherby (the town in West Yorkshire where the relocation is set to take place).

The refugees received letters from the Home Office that staggered their moving dates over several days, starting on 7 February. Some refugees were told by text message the evening before they were expected to leave.

There are nearly 10,000 Afghan refugees living in temporary accommodation in the UK after Operation Pitting and the evacuation of Afghanistan in August 2021. The British troops followed the Americans’ in a retreat that has been paired with the US defeat and withdrawal during the Vietnam war.

Protests and arrests follow decision

A protest on the 8 February was held in Greenwich after refugees were given just hours notice to relocate to Bedfordshire. Many of these people are sick and in need of constant care.

Dozens of asylum seekers have staged a protest inside a Greenwich hotel where they have been for 18 months, after being given just a few hours’ notice that they were due to be moved to Bedfordshire.

“We came to the UK looking for freedom but the reality is not like that. I’ve lost my friends, my community, my college with this move. I’ve lost everything. The system is broken.”

Although the home office argues it gives sufficient time for refugees to move, protestors in Greenwich reportedly were told mere hours before their eviction.

An argument why the refugees are being forced out is that the current hotel is too expensive. A Home Office spokesperson said it was costing the UK nearly £6 million a day to house the refugees.

Considering the UK has also taken in 158,000 refugees from Ukraine in the midst of a cost of living and economic crisis, keeping several thousand refugees in a Kensington four star hotel is of course not sustainable.

But this begs the question why they were put there in the first place? As seems quite common with the UK government’s failings as of late, the issue stems from poor organisation and lack of proper planning. The Afghans didn’t ask for a hotel in such an expensive location, and now, 18 months later, they are being told to upend their lives again and relocate. Hamidullah Khan, a former parliamentary adviser in Kabul, asked the Home Office to stop paying the hotel fees and instead act as a guarantor so he could afford to rent a place himself.

Similar to the Direct Provision disaster across the water in Ireland, many refugees would be happy to settle and as such pay their own way but are unable to due to bureaucracy.