A group of families evacuated from Afghanistan have taken the Home Office to court for mismanaging the scheme set up to support them.
“Today I’m delighted that we’re launching Operation Warm Welcome to give a warm welcome to everyone who has landed on our shores in recent weeks but in the longer term as well and make sure that with us, with our help, they can build bright futures in our country.”Victoria Atkins, Minister for Afghan Resettlement, speaking to Sky News
In the summer of 2021 the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan and the UK government began to evacuate Afghans who had worked for British forces.
“We owe them a big debt of gratitude and obligation so that it’s right that they should come to this country.”Boris Johnson
A cross-government scheme was set up to help those people settle and integrate into society by providing things like English lessons, access to healthcare and accommodation.
More than a year later many of those people are still receiving support and a group of Afghan families are challenging the Home Office over its decision to move them from a hotel in London to one in the north of England.
“This case is about a decision to uproot my clients hundreds of miles from the community that they were living in, in Southwark, after having lived there for over a year and moving them to an airport hotel on a temporary basis in a northern city with the result that their children are now out of education… some of them for, for over four months.”Daniel Rourke, solicitor at the Public Law Project
Daniel Rourke is a solicitor at the Public Law Project.
“We are a legal charity. We help people to access public law remedies. That generally means judicial review, and we have a particular focus on immigration issues and welfare benefits issues, automated decision making, and several other focus areas.”Daniel Rourke, solicitor at the Public Law Project
He’s representing the family of a man known as Abdullah, who worked for the Afghan National Army, serving alongside British and American forces.
“One thing that’s quite important about this case to remember is that these families were invited to come to the UK last year as part of the evacuation in recognition of the bravery of people like Abdullah, my client…”Daniel Rourke, solicitor at the Public Law Project
When Abdullah and his family came to the UK they were given temporary accommodation in a hotel in Southwark, south London, and Abdullah’s children started going to school.
“It was only due to the efforts of teachers at one of the local schools that the children were ever actually registered for education places and they ended up staying there for, for well over a year. So the teachers kind of went out, realised that there were all of these Afghan children living in the hotel… went out, registered them for school, set up a special mixed age class where the children could focus first on learning English and then graduate into the mainstream classes and be registered for GCSEs and so on.”Daniel Rourke, solicitor at the Public Law Project
Abdullah’s eldest daughter was ready to sit her GCSE exams when, in September 2022, they were told at short notice that they’d be moving to an airport hotel in the north of England.
“And all of this… for a temporary move rather than a move to somewhere where they could start to build a life permanently.”Daniel Rourke, solicitor at the Public Law Project
The decision to move them was made because the original hotel was no longer going to be used to house Afghan refugees.
And it meant people who were relocated lost job offers, training opportunities and school places, as well as the support networks they’d built in London.
So it was back to square one for Abdullah’s family.
“They haven’t received a lot of support in registering for new schools, they’ve been told that they’ve been put on a waiting list… And on one occasion he went out by himself and found a secondary school, um, that seemed willing to take the children and then that was overruled by the local authority, who sort of in effect said, you’ve skipped the queue, you need to go back on the waiting list and just wait to hear from us.”Daniel Rourke, solicitor at the Public Law Project
The local authority did later offer a place to one of his children at a different school, but that was a long way from the airport hotel they now call home.
“It was an hour and a half commute each day to get there and as a young woman who doesn’t speak very good English in an unfamiliar city, she was very worried about taking that journey by herself.”Daniel Rourke, solicitor at the Public Law Project
So, where are they with their case against the Home Office?
The experience of Abdullah and his family, who are still living in a hotel, isn’t unusual.
According to the most recent data more than nine thousand Afghans were still living in so-called bridging hotels in November 2022.
The Home Office told Tortoise…
“The UK is proud to have already provided homes for nearly 7,600 Afghan evacuees.”Home Office spokesperson
That means less than half of the people who came to the UK from Afghanistan are now living in temporary or permanent housing rather than hotels.
The statement went on…
“We do not want to see families remain in hotels for long periods, which is why we are working at pace to move people into housing as soon as possible so they can settle and find jobs.”Home Office spokesperson
But as Abdullah’s case shows, whilst those people do remain in hotels, they live with the prospect of being moved long distances at short notice.
Here’s Daniel Rourke from the Public Law Project again.
“The Home Office has actually argued in court that the Home Secretary doesn’t have any duty to consider the best interests of the children. They say that this isn’t an immigration decision.
Well, it’s a package of support that made up a settlement scheme where the Home Office invited these people to come to the UK, so that, that seems absurd to say that it’s, it’s not her responsibility to consider the impact of the children who she is forcing to move hundreds of miles across the country.
The Home Office didn’t really investigate or consider any suitable alternatives that would’ve enabled the children to keep attending their same school. There was sort of a blanket decision that all of the families would be moved.”Daniel Rourke, solicitor at the Public Law Project
But there are signs that things could be about to improve for families like Abdullah’s.
“Since we started the case, the Home Office have now published a policy setting out how they will make these decisions in future to move people from one set, bridging accommodation to another, and the types of factors that they will take into account, which include education, employment, health reasons.”Daniel Rourke, solicitor at the Public Law Project
That would provide much needed stability to people who were offered a warm welcome but feel they got a lukewarm one instead.
This episode was written and mixed by Imy Harper.