Afghan resettlement ‘ground to a halt’ as Home Office hotel bill hits £1 million a day

ITV News Social Affairs Correspondent Sarah Corker explores the impact of the lengthy rehoming delays for Afghans desperate to make a new life in the UK

Home Office "red tape" and "disorganisation" have been blamed for ongoing delays in rehoming 12,000 Afghan evacuees stuck in hotels since August.

One refugee charity told ITV News that 1,600 people offered rooms and accommodation to host Afghan families - but not one single placement has been made in nine months because of government bureaucracy and constraints. Instead, thousands of Afghans are stuck living in hotel rooms at a cost of £1.2million a day to the taxpayer.

Many of them are vulnerable and have fled extreme trauma after the Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan last summer. Sara Nathan, founder of Refugees at Home, which finds rooms for refugees in the UK, said the resettlement scheme has "stalled and ground to a halt" and they hadn’t had one single meeting with the Home Office about Afghan refugees since the conflict in Ukraine began. “It’s so sad and frustrating all round - hosting wasn’t very high on the Home Office’s agenda at this point. We kept saying hotels are not good places for traumatised people, but nothing happened,” Ms Nathan said.

'In the end no Afghans were placed with any of our hosts,' Ms Nathan said

Councils are given £20,520 per Afghan refugee in resettlement money over three years to help with community integration.

Charities, however, have been reportedly told that refugees and local authorities will lose that support if they accept accommodation offers outside of the Home Office system, something officials have denied. ITV News has been following the stories of Afghan families living in limbo and unable to start re-building their lives. Their whole world crammed into these tiny rooms. It’s been almost a year since the world witnessed those distressing scenes of thousands of people flooding Kabul airport desperate to escape the Taliban, some even clinging on to departing planes on the runway and handing children over walls to soldiers.

Watch ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine’s eyewitness report last August from Kabul, where he spoke to a Taliban commander and saw women’s beauty salons shut as the militants took over

This video contains distressing images

In West London, Krystyna Deuss, was deeply moved by those images and wanted to do something to help.

The 78-year-old spent money making improvements to a flat she owned in the capital and had an Afghan family lined up and ready to move in. But for five months the flat, which had previously been rented out privately for more than a decade, sat empty. Despite months of emails, phone calls, inspections and requests from officials, there was little progress. Ms Deuss, whose own family came to the UK as refugees from Poland in the 1940s, was scathing about the Home Office response. “I was absolutely gob-smacked, at the fact they were utterly useless. The response was pathetic. “It seems to me there’s no sense of urgency, too much red tape and too many people working from home. I just wanted to help, but it seemed impossible. In the end I just got so fed up and sick of it (the bureaucracy)," she said. The Afghan family who had hoped to move into the property are living in a hotel. “It’s tragic because all these people put their lives at risk working for the Brits and Americans in Afghanistan and it’s just so awful that they’ve just been forgotten,” Ms Deuss told ITV News.

Many of the young Afghan refugees are able to set aside their painful memories of the Taliban when they play cricket. Credit: ITV News

Kensington and Chelsea Royal Borough Council has organised a range of free sports sessions for evacuees to boost their mental health and well-being.

For one hour every week a group of young Afghans can set aside their painful memories of the Taliban and have a bit of fun. “Cricket is my favourite sport. We played it back in Afghanistan. It brings back great memories of home,” said Basir, a 23-year-old former university student from Kabul.

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When Kabul fell last summer, Basir’s life was suddenly in danger. He managed to escape on one of the final evacuation flights out of the country. Since then he’s been living in a hotel and is prepared to move anywhere in the UK, he just wants somewhere to call home again. “Sometimes it is really hard for us because we don’t know what will happen next or where we will be resettled. We are just waiting,” he said. All those that I met at the cricket nets told me they are immensely grateful to be in the UK and to be safe. Many, however, were also desperate to move on and be able to work, study and re-start their lives. The council’s deputy leader Kim Taylor-Smith said a shortage of suitable housing stock was making it challenging to find permanent properties, but in the short term they’re providing advice and practical support to families.

Mr Taylor-Smith outlines the practical steps the council is doing to help the refugees rebuild their lives

Local authorities have told ITV News they fully expect many Afghan refugees to still be in hotels at the start of 2023, spending a second Christmas in hotel accommodation that has been described by the government as temporary and unsuitable for long periods of time. The Home Office has repeatedly refused our requests for an interview, but in a statement a spokesperson said: “We continue to work tirelessly to find more housing for Afghan refugees and to suggest otherwise is wrong. “The UK has made one of the largest commitments to resettle Afghans of any country. So far we have moved – or are in the process of moving – over 6,000 Afghan evacuees into homes.” “The housing of Afghan individuals and families can be a complex process and we are supporting people with many different needs.

"We urge councils to join over 300 local authorities who have pledged to support Afghan families, and those who can offer more housing places, to do so.”