Afghan homelessness in UK rises and over 4,200 still can't get here

Two years after the Taliban's Kabul takeover, getting Afghans settled in the UK is still proving a challenge, as ITV News' Harry Horton reports

The number of Afghans homeless in the UK after escaping the Taliban has risen in the past month, according to the latest figures, and there are still over 4,200 eligible for refuge in Britain who still can't get here.

Veterans minister Johnny Mercer told ITV News every Afghan resettled in the UK since the Taliban takeover in August 2021 had left taxpayer-funded hotels and were either already in suitable accommodation or would be "in the next month or two".

But the Local Government Association (LGA) said around a fifth of Afghan refugees who have been evicted from hotel accommodation have presented to councils as homeless in August.

That figure - revealed on Thursday, the government-imposed deadline for removing them from hotels - has increased 3% from 19% at the beginning of August.

LGA chairman Shaun Davies described the "huge pressure" on councils who were already dealing with record numbers of households living in temporary accommodation and "an acute shortage of housing across the country".

But Mr Mercer insisted "no one has slept rough" after arriving in the UK from Afghanistan and "no one is going to sleep rough".

He said he was proud of how the UK had helped resettle around 24,600 Afghans since the Taliban takeover but accepted more should be done to help the more than 4,200 eligible for UK refuge stranded in Afghanistan or neighbouring Pakistan.

Asked if the UK had abandoned those people who had worked with British forces during the occupation of Afghanistan in the early 2000s, the minister said: "The government is well aware that there are people in Afghanistan who are eligible to be in the UK, who we owe, who are not here today."

"That is an ongoing issue which we are not blind to."

There were at least 1,474 Afghan nationals who arrived in small boats from January to June, Home Office figures showed.

Mr Mercer, a former second lieutenant in the Royal Artillery who served two tours in Afghanistan, admitted ministers "need to work harder" to help Afghans get to the UK via a safe and legal route.

The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) and Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), which were set up to help Afghans resettle in the UK during the takeover, are both safe and legal routes created by the Home Office.

Speaking on Wednesday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said "very good progress" had been made in getting resettled Afghans out of hotels and into more suitable accommodation.

But the LGA's Mr Davies said: "Hotels have closed to Afghan households across the country and - as we feared - councils are seeing families presenting to them as homeless as a result.

"It is wrong that some families are having to leave Home Office-funded hotels only to then end up having to move into temporary accommodation.

"With record numbers of households already living in temporary accommodation and an acute shortage of housing across the country, this is adding huge pressure onto councils on the ground and disruption and distress for families, some of whom are particularly vulnerable."

He said more co-operative work was needed with government "to ensure a smooth transition for Afghan families that doesn't simply pass costs and responsibility from government to councils".

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The LGA surveyed councils with bridging hotels in their areas, and received responses from 22 out of the 45 by Thursday morning.

The organisation has been calling on the government to pay to keep hotel places open for those struggling to find somewhere to live, warning that if this does not happen the situation is “likely to worsen significantly”.

A government spokesperson said: "Afghans who have come to the UK legally and safely deserve every opportunity to rebuild their lives here, and hotels do not provide suitable long term accommodation.

"That is why we have worked tirelessly across government and with Local Authorities across the UK to help families find permanent homes, helping people successfully put down roots and providing them with a package of wraparound support.

"This is in the best interest of both families and British taxpayers, putting an end to the use of unsuitable and expensive hotel accommodation."