Former British embassy worker Farid Rahmani was shot by gunmen and he and his family were on one of the last evacuation flights to the UK out of Afghanistan, but seven months on, they're still living in a hotel, reports Social Affairs Correspondent Sarah Corker
Around 12,000 Afghan refugees, including children, are stuck living in hotels across the UK waiting for permanent housing more than seven months since they were evacuated from Kabul. These arrangements are costing the Home Office £1.2 million every day.
ITV News understands that many of them will remain in hotels for up to a year in total due to a shortage of affordable housing and delays to paperwork.
As the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine deepens, there are growing concerns from refugee charities that Afghans are being forgotten and the vulnerable and traumatised are not getting the support they need.
Farhat, 28, was a women's rights activist in Kabul. Her sister was a judge. When the Taliban came to power, their lives were in danger. They both fled the country they loved to stay alive and the rest of their family has gone into hiding.
"I am missing my country, my people, my family, nothing is okay in Afghanistan right now - it is worse than Ukraine unfortunately," Farhat said.
At West London Welcome, a refugee charity, the sisters are getting help and support with job applications and the welfare system.
Farhat is currently studying Gender Studies online at an Indian university and hopes to conduct online classes for girls who are not able to go to school.
For five months they’ve been sharing a small hotel room, waiting to be permanently rehoused.
"They [the Home Office] are always telling us there is no space... they always telling us there is no space for refugees in London, in Liverpool, in Manchester," she told us.
Farhat believes Afghans are not being treated in the same way as Ukrainian refugees.
People across Europe are opening their homes to Ukrainian refugees but not for Afghans, says Farhat
The Home Office’s hotel bill is eye watering.
Around 16,000 Afghans were evacuated to the UK in 2021 - the biggest and fastest emergency evacuation in UK history, but 12,000 are still living in hotels, many of them children. It’s costing the taxpayer £1.2 million every single day.
When you include other asylum seekers and refugees in hotels or what’s known as "bridging accommodation" that figure rises to £4.7 million a day.
Some of the hotels which house refugees have been booked "indefinitely", reports Social Affairs Correspondent Sarah Corker
The Rahmani family was on one of the last airlifts out of Kabul in August. For 17 happy years Farid Rahmani worked for the British embassy, most recently as a senior interpreter in the capital. Last summer gunman tried to assassinate the 37-year-old father of six in an ambush that left him seriously injured.
"They shot at me five times and one of the bullets hit me in the arm. I put the car into reverse and I made it out. I knew then we had to escape and leave Afghanistan," Mr Rahmani said.
"We had to leave everything behind, we came here with nothing. Some of my friends are still stranded in Kabul. We need to get them out."
After the trauma, the family of eight are desperate to move on. But they can’t. For the last seven months they’ve been stuck living in a hotel in Watford.
Cramped and claustrophobic, there is nowhere to cook, nowhere to be a normal family. The youngest, Hasenat, is just three-years-old and largely oblivious to their changing fortunes. The oldest, 15-year-old Ahmad Suhail is trying to learn English and make new friends.
"It's really hard, every moment is hard in the hotel. We were told we’d be here for four weeks, this is month seven. We have been told it could be a year," Mr Rahmani said.
"The children ask us when we are leaving the hotel and I don't have an answer. That’s the hardest thing."
In the evenings the older children do their homework on the bed, while the younger ones sleep or watch TV.
Mr Rahmani and wife Fatima move between the three hotels room that for now are their home.
The only belongings they have are those donated from charities and a nearby church.
Despite the difficulties, the family is immensely grateful for the generosity shown by the British people and to be somewhere safe.
A lack of affordable housing has been blamed for the delays in finding permanent homes.
Councils are given £20,520 per Afghan refugee in resettlement money over three years to help with community integration. The process has been sluggish and beset with delays.
The Local Government Association have said they are "seeking an urgent conversation" with the Home Office to tackle the reliance on hotels.
"Families should not be living in hotels. We want to work with government to ensure people are moved into the right permanent accommodation for them as quickly as possible," a spokesperson said.
"Government needs to engage more fully with local authorities and share regular data to enable proper planning of placements, housing, school places and other support across the UK."
Without the right paperwork or a permanent address, getting a job is almost impossible.
All of this raise serious questions about the government’s ability and the systems in place to cope with tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees. In comparison, Afghans are worried their plight is being overlooked.
Charities and councils have told ITV News that the Afghans schemes are underfunded, flawed and poorly planned.
Director of the Afghan Human Rights Foundation Mohammad Asif, who came to Scotland 20 years ago as an asylum seeker with nothing, now helps other Afghans who have fled. He doesn’t hide his frustrations.
"The bottom line is that the British government has failed Afghans so badly, they need to get their act together and move Afghans from hotels," he said.
"I believe Afghans and every other refugees are being treated differently to the Ukrainians."
Aside from mounting accommodation costs, there are concerns about the health impact and warnings that hotels are unsuitable places for families in the long-term.
Professor Cornelius Katona is the Medical Director at the Helen Bamber Foundation which helps survivors of human rights violations.
"As a psychiatrist, I am very worried - that way of living, that lack of linkage, social isolation, freedom, all of that can have quite bad effects on individuals and families," the professor, who is also the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ lead on Refugee and Asylum Mental Health, said.
"I’m worried about continuity of care as well. People are being moved all over the country and those with underlying health problems and trauma need consistent care."
Back in Watford – Farid Rahmani’s youngest daughter is suffering from malnutrition. The limited money they do have goes to pay for taxis to and from the hospital. In March alone, Hasenat needed emergency treatment 10 times.
As people open their homes to Ukrainian refugees in huge numbers - Afghans fear their own plight is fading from public view. This has started a fierce debate about whether all refugees are treated the same.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said it is "shameful" that families are still living in hotels.
"The Home Office had months to prepare for the Afghanistan withdrawal and put proper plans in place to support Afghan refugees yet eight months after the evacuation they have still failed to do so," the Labour MP said.
"These shameful delays and incompetence are causing real problems for families stuck in hotels, as well as huge costs for the taxpayer. Priti Patel needs to urgently sort this out."
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Home Office said: "The use of hotels to house those resettled from Afghanistan is a short-term solution and we are working with local councils to find appropriate longer term accommodation for them.
"We are proud this country has provided homes for more than 4,000 Afghan evacuees in such a short space of time, with over 300 local authorities pledging their support.
"We are working to encourage families to accept properties as quickly as possible as part of our cross government effort in partnership with local councils and the private rented sector to secure homes for Afghan evacuees so they can integrate into local communities and rebuild their lives."