Number of Afghan refugees in hotels shows scale of rehousing task, says minister

The UK evacuated more than 15,000 people from August 13.

Members of the UK Armed Forces leading evacuees past ZZ171 (nearest camera), an Royal Air Force Boeing C-17A Globemaster III, at Kabul airport (LPhot Ben Shread/MoD/PA)
Members of the UK Armed Forces leading evacuees past ZZ171 (nearest camera), an Royal Air Force Boeing C-17A Globemaster III, at Kabul airport (LPhot Ben Shread/MoD/PA)

Around 11,000 people who fled Afghanistan remain in UK hotels and have yet to move to permanent accommodation, the Government has said, amid calls for swifter action.

Victoria Atkins, the minister for Afghan resettlement, said the number showed the “scale of the task” facing officials following the evacuation effort to help people flee as the Taliban swept to power.

The UK evacuated more than 15,000 people from August 13.

The Government also faced claims of “fobbing off” MPs as the Commons heard complaints that further details of the Afghan Citizen Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) have not been revealed in the weeks since it was first announced.

Up to 20,000 refugees are expected to arrive under the ACRS.

Victoria Atkins (Kirsty O'Connor/PA)
Victoria Atkins (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Speaking in the Commons, SNP home affairs spokesman Stuart McDonald said the expression “up to 20,000 is far too vague”.

He asked: “When does she aim to have people already here out of bridging hotels and how many are currently in them?

“Does she share my concern that hotels are being targeted by far-right activists and what lessons to do we learn from that in relation to asylum accommodation policy?”

Ms Atkins replied: “In terms of bridging hotels, we have around 11,000 people in bridging hotels at the moment, this shows the scale of the task – (his) eyebrows raised a bit with that, it shows the scale of the task ahead of us.

“This is going to take time and I have been frank with the House at every opportunity to make that clear.

“It is going to take us time, but we want to do this right.”

She added: “He’s absolutely right to raise the issue of security, I don’t again want….there to be any unintended consequences, but we are very, very mindful of the security needs of our bridging hotels and people who reside within them.

“Clearly any actions to target them are not only unlawful, illegal, they are also despicable in moral terms and the police and others will work very hard to ensure that does not happen.”

Earlier, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion) said: “(Ms Atkins) says the Government is working at pace, but I can promise her it doesn’t feel like that for the Afghans still stuck in Afghanistan with no idea if and how they’ll be able to get to safety.

“It certainly does not feel like that to honourable members who have been writing emails, making phone calls, desperate to get some kind of response from the Home Office and Foreign Office and again and again, frankly, just being fobbed off with standard formula emails that do not address the problems that we are raising on a daily basis.”

On ACRS, Ms Lucas said: “Two months on and still counting.

“We have still heard nothing.”

British military personnel depart a C-17 aircraft at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire after the final airlift from Afghanistan (Peter Nicholls/PA)
British military personnel depart a C-17 aircraft at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire after the final airlift from Afghanistan (Peter Nicholls/PA)

For Labour, shadow immigration minister Bambos Charalambous said: “I share the frustrations of many about the slow progress of the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme (ACRS).

“We’re still waiting for the details from the Home Office on how the scheme will operate in practice and the Government’s own website offering guidance on the scheme has not been updated since September 13.”

Conservative chairman of the Defence Committee Tobias Ellwood raised humanitarian concerns, saying “over half the population” in Afghanistan were “facing starvation and a very tough winter”.

He said: “Could I ask for the Government to engage further with the Taliban to secure greater access for the United Nations organisations such as the World Food Programme and Unicef in order to prevent the largest humanitarian disaster in decades from unfolding?”

Ms Atkins replied: “It’s really important that we do everything we can to work with our international partners.”

Labour’s Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) highlighted the cases of people trapped in Afghanistan, including the wife of a constituent.

He told MPs: “She is threatening to self-immolate if she is left to the devices of the Taliban.”

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