An Afghan refugee said he is “just living by hope” that he does not become homeless as he accused a Government minister who said people must “help themselves” of not understanding the reality of the situation.
Amir Hussain Ibrahimi said he has spoken to around 10 landlords in London and on the outskirts of the city in an effort to find a place to rent, having been told to leave his temporary accommodation in the next three weeks.
Mr Ibrahimi, 24, has been living in a hotel in Southend-on-Sea for almost two years, having come to the UK on a military evacuation flight in August 2021 as the Taliban swept back into power in his home country.
Since then he said he has been “doing my best, I am paying taxes and I am happy that I am trying to improve and be part of this society and stand on my own two feet”.
But Mr Ibrahimi, who works as a marketing and production assistant at the Good Chance theatre in east London, said none of the almost dozen landlords he has tried to rent from will accept him as a tenant.
He said he feels his nationality is putting landlords off, as well as the fact he is a single male, and described the thought of not having somewhere to stay next month as “scary”, making him so nervous he sometimes gets “a little bit shaky”.
The UK promised a safe haven for thousands of people who had to flee Afghanistan, with many living in hotels since arriving.
On Tuesday, Cabinet Office minister Johnny Mercer told Parliament there is no reason why Afghans being settled in the UK cannot live independently of central government support, saying the Government expects “families to help themselves”.
Responding to the minister’s comments, Mr Ibrahimi said it is difficult as a refugee who is new to a country to get a permanent job and insisted that “rushing is not the way for finding housing for thousands of people”.
He said: “I think he (Mr Mercer) cannot understand what our situation is, to be honest. He hasn’t had to leave everything behind and had to travel with a small backpack.
“He hasn’t been in a room alone having left his family behind. He hasn’t been a refugee trying to find a place to work and no-one is going to give you a permanent job because you are a refugee.
“Lots of different things are happening at the same time.”
Mr Mercer said the Government had made £7,100 per person of flexible funding available “to support move-on, including through providing deposits, furniture, rental top-ups and rent advances”.
In return for this “generous offer”, the minister said, “we expect families to help themselves”.
Bridge to Unity, an organisation which helps refugees arriving in the UK from various countries, questioned why – after almost two years of people living in hotels – local authorities and Government officials are making such “a focused and driven effort to find accommodation” in “the final hour”.
Its co-director, Alexandra Kenchington, said: “Should these efforts and resources have been called on with such urgency sooner? We suspect so.”
She said the organisation had seen first-hand the mental health impacts on refugees who had received notices to leave their temporary accommodation.
She added: “We are sitting with and talking to individuals who are crying and who are anxious and worried because no matter what they do and try they cannot find accommodation. We hear from men that their children and their wives cry themselves to sleep every day asking ‘please tell me you found us a house today?’.”
Mr Ibrahimi said while the Government has provided support, the situation on the ground for refugees to find their own accommodation is challenging.
He said: “It is really hard to be honest, it is really hard. For me, who has worked and who can speak the language, who is familiar with the rules, and familiar with the rent in London – when I try to apply (for a flat) myself it doesn’t work.”
He said for others who might not have the same level of English or who have a big family things are even more challenging.
The Local Government Association said councils are “hugely concerned” that Afghan families could end up homeless, with the prospect of all those who are still in hotels finding affordable, long-term accommodation in the areas they want to live in “extremely challenging”.
It set the task in the context of “increased demand and acute shortage of housing available across the country, combined with other pressures from across asylum and resettlement schemes”.
Asked if he is fearful of homelessness, Mr Ibrahimi said: “I am just living by hope. Since I arrived I am hoping things are going to be fine. But hope does not work.
“I did the best I could to find somewhere but I don’t know what will happen next. I worry what will happen next.”
On top of the stress he faces in trying to find somewhere to live in the UK, he has to cope with the concern he has for family members who remain in Afghanistan – saying his sister and mother “cannot go outside alone” amid the Taliban’s reign.
He added: “I am not sleeping that well to be honest when I am thinking about them.”
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