Around 4,000 Afghan evacuees will still be living in temporary hotel accommodation in London over Christmas and the New Year, according to London Councils, which represents the 32 London boroughs and the City of London Corporation.
It has been five months since thousands of Afghan families were evacuated to the UK as part of Operation Pitting, after the planned withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan triggered a humanitarian crisis.
Boroughs are playing an instrumental role in delivering wraparound support to families living in hotels, including providing new clothing, organising school places for children, arranging mental health support with local NHS services and translating public health advice on issues such as Covid-19.
To mark the festive season and deliver the warm welcome that is so important to successful resettlement, many London boroughs are working with local voluntary sector organisations to ensure Afghans feel included in UK traditions while respecting their religious and cultural backgrounds. For example, a hotel for arrivals in the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham is hosting an Afghan dinner on Christmas day.
All London boroughs have agreed to support their fair share of Afghan evacuee families into longer-term accommodation, with some boroughs prepared to resettle more than this. Boroughs have also been working closely with the government departments leading on Afghan resettlement – primarily the Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – to raise and resolve issues on the ground.
London Councils is urging the government to work with local authorities to ensure all evacuated families get the care and support they need, with suitable housing being a crucial part of this.
Cllr Darren Rodwell, Deputy Chair of London Councils, said:
“London boroughs are rightly proud of the work they are doing to support thousands of Afghans who served alongside British forces in Afghanistan, as they rebuild their lives following the unimaginable trauma of fleeing their homes.
“Alongside councils across the country, we work closely with the Home Office and other government departments to ensure Afghan evacuees get the care and support they need, putting our local knowledge and resources to use and making a real difference to these highly vulnerable families.
“However, five months on from Operation Pitting, London boroughs want to see faster progress on moving the roughly 4,000 evacuees in the capital into suitable longer-term homes. Hotel accommodation is not suitable for families and local services are struggling to cope with demand.
“We urge the government to continue working constructively with us so that Afghan families feel supported as they put down roots in the UK.”
London Councils has welcomed the government’s decision to provide evacuees who are British nationals with resettlement support aligned with the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) and Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS).
The cross-party group has also welcomed the government’s decision to increase the resettlement support offer for Afghans from one year to three years and to provide more clarity on how and when local authorities will receive the funds.
However, London boroughs are supporting Afghan evacuees alongside their other responsibilities for refugees and asylum-seekers living locally, which are already placing huge pressure on the capital’s local services and housing. For example, London boroughs are supporting thousands of asylum-seekers in contingency hotels and providing accommodation and support to roughly one third of all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in England.
London Councils is working closely with the government to address key challenges around support for asylum-seekers and Afghan evacuees and is working to support an acceleration of resettlement in the New Year.