Afghan refugees claim they “remain trapped in remote hotels” after losing a High Court challenge over the government’s decision to move them hundreds of miles across England to new temporary accommodation.
Three families said in their legal action against the Home Office, that moving them from London to a northern city would cause “considerable disruption” to the education of children facing exams.
At a hearing in January, their lawyers alleged the home secretary was failing to fulfil a commitment to help them rebuild their lives in the UK after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in the summer of 2021.
The government disputed the claims, which were dismissed by a High Court judge in a ruling on Friday.
Mr Justice Henshaw concluded a legal duty to “safeguard and promote” the interests of children did not apply to the Home Office’s actions in the cases.
Even if the duty had applied, the judge concluded the government “had regard to the need to safeguard and promote the… children’s welfare”.
Reacting to the ruling, the families’ lawyers accused the government of “failing catastrophically” in its approach and claimed the ruling “leaves thousands of other Afghan evacuees at risk of being moved hundreds of miles at short notice”.
The refugees’ legal team previously argued that an offer to transfer them from a London hotel – in an area where children were studying and others had jobs – to further temporary accommodation in northern England was “unlawful”.
They claimed several children still do not have school places months after the move, while one woman was at risk of losing her job in the capital.
The Home Office was accused of failing to take into account the families’ personal circumstances when considering where they could be housed.
The judge was also told that while the families had not been forced to live anywhere, the “practical reality” was they had no option but to move.
The Home Office’s lawyers disputed the linked claims, saying individual situations were looked at it but it was not under an “enforceable duty” to provide accommodation to the families.
The department said the interests of school-aged children had “at all times been central” to decision-making.
The court was told the families were brought to the UK via resettlement schemes and settled in London over the course of a year.
They experienced “upheaval” when they were offered the move up north last September after their hotel ended its contract with the government.
Under Operation Warm Welcome, the government’s plans to integrate arriving refugees involved arranging temporary “bridging accommodation” in hotels until families could secure permanent housing – likely in the private-rented sector – with the support of public funding.
As of last August some 9,667 people under the resettlement schemes were still living in hotels, the judge was told.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Henshaw said a “reasonable decision-maker could have settled on the nature and level of enquiries” the Home Office took over school places.
He concluded the department had taken into account the availability of health and education services and made enquiries with a local council.
The judge said the government was entitled to look at a broad range of factors including costs, migration pressure and the prospects of refugees finding permanent accommodation in different areas.
“The (government) was entitled to form a view about the appropriate level of enquiry in all the circumstances,” he said, adding that it had concluded that any education disruption would not be “disproportionate”.
He added that it had reached a “rational” conclusion that the woman allegedly at risk of losing her job had “the relevant skills and fortitude” to find a similar one elsewhere, having properly considered her circumstances.
In a statement the Public Law Project, housing charity Shelter and law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn said: “The families are devastated by today’s result.
“They have already been forced to leave their home country to flee extreme violence and threats to their lives, and now they’ve been ripped away from the new lives they had started to build in London too.
“With children forced to give up school places and their parents’ employment affected, today’s judgment means these families remain stuck in hotels in a new city, hurling them right back to square one.”
“A hotel room is not a safe home. It is well known that living in a cramped hotel room for long periods and being moved around constantly is hugely detrimental to children’s health, education and wellbeing.
“Thousands of Afghan refugees are stuck in hotels experiencing the same trauma. If they are to have any hope of rebuilding their lives, the Home Office must protect families from being repeatedly uprooted, and remove the barriers preventing them from finding a settled home.”
The families will not appeal against the ruling, they said.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are proud this country has provided homes for more than 7,500 Afghan evacuees, but hotels do not provide a long-term solution.
“Occasionally it is necessary for families to be moved from where they are staying. In these instances, families are given appropriate notice of a move and are supported by the local authority every step of the way.
“This includes continuing every possible support with healthcare, education, jobs and housing to allow families to continue their lives successfully in the UK.”