Afghan evacuees in UK face homelessness and destitution, MPs say

Afghans evacuated to Britain are facing homelessness and destitution amid confusion over plans to house them, MPs say. And essential supplies meant for newborns and mothers, largely provided by volunteers, are not always reaching them, leading to concerns over their ongoing care.

Most families have been moved out of quarantine into “bridging” hotels. But some, including traumatised British citizens, are scrambling to find accommodation. Others are being sent far from their support networks. One man who has lived in north London for 23 years, told the Guardian he was suffering from depression after being sent to a hotel hundreds of miles from relatives. Another was told to board a bus with his sick baby daughter to Liverpool, despite having an emergency housing claim in London.

Ellie Reeves, the Labour MP for Lewisham West and Penge, said five families from her constituency faced “homelessness and destitution because the Home Office and local authorities couldn’t decide who was going to house them”. One of the families, including a British man, his seven months pregnant wife and four children under 10 were found a last-minute temporary hostel unsuitable for daytime use, she said.

“What does a seven month pregnant woman with four children under 10 do all day? It’s devastating,” said Reeves. “There needs to be a joined-up approach between the Home Office and local authorities. People are not being looked after.”

Another British man, whose daughter was crushed to death at Kabul airport, is living in a studio flat with his brother and 13-year-old son, with a single bed between them, Reeves said.

The lack of coordination between authorities responsible for evacuees has led to people being sent hundreds of miles from their support networks. One Afghan, Zia Maliky, a fixer and translator for British journalists in Afghanistan who has an emergency application for housing in Hammersmith and Fulham, said he was ordered to travel 200 miles by bus with his unwell child.

Maliky, a father of three currently in London, said security guards told him to board the bus last week. “I asked where are they taking us. They said: ‘We don’t know.’ I saw on the paper it was Liverpool. They told us: ‘You have to pack.’ The bus was coming in half an hour.

“We were afraid. I told them my little daughter is very sick, she is vomiting and coughing. I said we are trying to settle in London. Can you talk to my lawyer, who is helping me? They said no, we don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t know if they don’t have information or they don’t want to tell us.”

His seven-month old daughter, Manahil, has had diarrhoea since she left Afghanistan on 28 August. She was seen by a hotel medic who recommended a change of formula milk, which Maliky said the hotel could not supply.

Andy Slaughter, the Labour MP for Hammersmith, said he had referred Maliky’s case to the cabinet member for housing at the borough. Slaughter said: “It’s a very confusing picture. From what I know, MPs are not being told anything. If they had to move the family because it is a quarantine hotel, why move them 200 miles away? If they have a housing application it should be considered.”

Abdul Ghaffar, who has lived in Barnet, working as a minicab driver, for 23 years, said he had been sent to a hotel in Grantham, hundreds of miles from his support network. Ghaffer was evacuated out of Kabul after travelling to the country to visit his wife, Simi, and three children, Sara, 22, Waqar, 17 and Salaman, 15.

“I have friends and relatives in Barnet who can help us,” Ghaffer said. “I’m a British citizen. I’m grateful to the government but I am unhappy here. My GP in Hendon sent me a prescription for pills for depression. My situation is very bad. I am not sleeping, I am not eating. I don’t know how long we will be here. No one can tell me.”

Last week the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association (ACAA) delivered clothing, baby buggies, toiletries and other items to more than 200 people, half of them children, living in a bridging hotel. Families were welcomed by Farsi-speaking volunteers with suitcases labelled with the room numbers, thanks to an online ordering system set up by the charity.

Ikram Agha, 18, a business student who was evacuated with his brothers Masoud, 14 and Basd, four, and seven other family members, said he was delighted with the donations and was hoping for shoes to replace the flip-flops he has been wearing since leaving Afghanistan. But he was anxious to speak to a government official to learn about his future.

“I feel sad here because we don’t have a home,” said Agha. “I need to go to college, to play football or cricket. I need government help, they are not coming here.”

The lack of a coordinated response from central government is hampering efforts to support Afghan families, charities say. At least seven babies have been born to Afghans evacuated to Britain, according to the West Middlesex hospital, which is providing maternity care.

Rose McGrath, a volunteer with ACAA, said she was worried about the continuity of care of newborns after being told that at least one family, possibly two, were no longer in hotels shortly after giving birth.

“We get no forewarning of what is happening next,” McGrath said. “We got a request from West Middlesex hospital to pick up and deliver a package for a family for a newborn baby. But by the time we got to the hotel, we were told the family had left.”

On another occasion they were asked by another charity to provide a newborn care package to a family in a hotel, but they were told at the hotel that it wasn’t needed.

A source close to Greenwich council said they had offered houses for two families with newborns, including one premature baby, so that they could continue receiving the same care. But the Home Office had not got back to the council, the source said. Greenwich had more than 700 people in quarantine hotels, including the newborns. But now “people are disappearing” the source said. “We don’t know where they are.”

Enver Solomon, of the Refugee Council, said he believed people would be in bridging hotels for months. He said the support available to families in bridging hotels was “inconsistent and patchy” and the voluntary sector had had to fill the gaps.

“The government is really struggling to put into place a coherent and consistent package of support for every Afghan family,” Solomon said.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We continue to work with local authorities to source appropriate accommodation as quickly as possible, although we have had to use hotels as a temporary measure due to unprecedented demand. Families are given full-board meals and we are working to ensure they have the essential items and specific support they need.”

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