LONDON: Thousands of Afghan refugees who have been housed in hotels in the UK following the Kabul evacuation last year have been told by authorities to look for new accommodation on online real estate portals.
The UK Home Office has told refugees to find accommodation on Rightmove or Zoopla, The Guardian reported.
On the first anniversary of the Taliban takeover, the UK government is still providing hotel accommodation to 9,500 Afghan refugees, with only 7,000 having been rehoused.
Although charities have welcomed government moves to end the use of hotels to accommodate the refugees, charity officials are concerned that many will fail to find suitable accommodation in the private rented sector and may end up homeless.
Afghan families with children will struggle to find affordable accommodation that is large enough using the housing benefit provided.
Charities also highlighted the fact that refugees may not be able to negotiate their own rental agreements due to language barriers, and would not have paperwork such as passports and bank statements that are required to rent a property.
Home Office sources say that in addition to encouraging Afghan families living in hotels to look for their own housing, they aim to offer each family two choices of accommodation somewhere in the UK. However, it is not known if they will be given a choice of location.
The Home Office said the accommodation offers would be “good, decent proposals,” but that if families rejected the offers, they would be provided with a further two months of hotel accommodation. It did not say what would happen if the families failed to secure accommodation after that.
Home Office sources say they are trying to encourage Afghan families to move to other parts of the UK, such as Wales, but this may be problematic for families with children who are attending school in large cities such as London.
Waiting lists for council housing are long, especially for larger properties that can accommodate Afghan families with three or more children.
Despite Afghan families having the right to rent under immigration rules and landlords being able to check this using an online tool, some are reluctant to rent to people who do not have a British passport, or evidence of life in the UK such as utility bills and payslips.
A letter sent to Afghan refugees from the Home Office says that not all councils will accept a request to put families on social housing waiting lists, urging them to start looking in the private rental sector.
“Not all councils will support you so it’s important to check,” the letters said. They urged the refugees to search for multiple properties to increase their chances of finding accommodation as the UK housing market is “very competitive.”
Eva Tabbasam, director of Gender Action for Peace and Security, expressed concern about the plans.
“Afghan families couldn’t have imagined that one year after arriving they’d still be warehoused in unsuitable accommodation, without space, privacy and stability. There is also a serious risk of homelessness for these families if suitable accommodation is not offered under the current Home Office plans, Tabbasam said.
“The government has had a year to sort things out — instead, it’s getting worse. If suitable accommodation was readily available for the 9,500 people still in hotels, families would already have been moved into it. We don’t yet know what kind of move on accommodation families will be offered,” she added.
London Councils’ executive member for communities, Claire Holland, said: “Boroughs are very concerned by the lack of alternative housing options for these families — a particular challenge in the capital due to the chronic shortage of affordable housing here.”
A Home Office spokesperson said that the use of hotels to house those resettling from Afghanistan is a temporary solution.
“We continue to work with over 350 local authorities to move Afghan families from hotels to permanent accommodation as quickly as possible,” they said.
“To support the resettlement of Afghan families, local authorities are given £20,520 ($24,789) per person over a three-year period. They have the flexibility to use this funding to contribute toward renting accommodation, including deposits, letting fees and furnishing.”