UK government facing housing crisis over resettling Afghans

UK running out of time to find housing for Afghan refugees as quarantine ends
3 min read
03 September, 2021
The UK government is scrambling to find permanent housing for Afghan refugees, as many come out of hotel quarantine following their evacuation from Kabul, and need a permanent home.
Afghan refugees have been quarantining in hotels such as the Atrium Hotel Heathrow in Hounslow West London [source: TNA Staff]

The UK government faces an impending housing crisis as Afghan refugees, evacuated from Kabul following the Taliban’s takeover, come out of hotel quarantine and need permanent accommodation.  

Around ten thousand Afghan refugees are quarantining in Britain according to Victoria Atkins, an MP charged with rehousing and supporting thousands of Afghans under the UK government’s “Operation Warm Welcome”. 

However, permanent housing for all refugees who have completed the mandatory 10-days in isolation is not ready, with reports indicating that only around half of the housing stock required has been secured. 

The New Arab contacted the UK Home Office to confirm the housing stock available for Afghan refugees leaving quarantine in the next few days, but was not given an exact number.  

We were referred to a figure, published on Wednesday, that “over 2,000 places [had] already” been confirmed. There was no further information as to whether this figure was around 2,000 - leaving a deficit of up to 6,000 - or much higher. 

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Only around half of England’s local councils have signed up to help find homes for refugee families under the UK government’s Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP). As of 1 September, just a third - or 100 councils - have come forward. 

The UK Home Office is still seeking “firm offers of support” from councils, according to a report on Thursday by BBC News. However, many councils say they do not have accommodation available or decided it was unfair to make offers to Afghans given that local people are still waiting for housing. 

Councillor Steve Curran, Leader of Hounslow Council - a borough in which a number of Afghans are currently quarantining in hotels near Heathrow airport - told The New Arab that it would provide between five to six family homes, like other London Boroughs, under ARAP.

"The potential size of the homes required means these will need to be sourced from the private rented sector, as the Council does not have a ready supply of empty council properties," said the Cllr. 

While the average size of a UK household is two to three, the average size of a household in Afghanistan is around seven. 

Further pledges for housing under the government's new relocation scheme, Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), has not been finalised, said the Cllr. 

The ARAP scheme - under which over 8,000 Afghans are eligible to come to the UK - 'sits separately' from the 20,000 Afghans to be resettled in Britain in the next five years under the UK government’s new Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ACRS). 

Refugees will stay in "holding" hotels and temporary houses - also known as "bridging accommodation" - until a home can be found. Often the location of this housing is not where the refugee/s will eventually end up and many can be held in limbo for months. 

More than 500 members of the public have offered spare rooms and holiday lets through an online government portal for providing temporary housing before permanent accommodation can be found. 

The UK government is also negotiating with Pontins, a holiday parks company, to provide additional temporary housing.

It was confirmed this week that Afghan refugees would be offered indefinite leave to remain in Britain, after the UK alongside other NATO forces and US troops withdrew from Afghanistan and ended a 20-year mission. 

"Operation Warm Welcome" - a cross-government effort "to ensure Afghans arriving in the UK receive the vital support they need to rebuild their lives" - includes housing assistance as well as funds for medical care and educational services for Afghan refugees.