Afghan refugees settling in Richmond face up to six month wait to be rehomed

Afghan refugees in Richmond could face a six month wait to be rehomed, claims Richmond Park MP Sarah Olney.

Richmond has committed to rehousing the refugees, however, the number of families remains unconfirmed and a lack of family-sized affordable housing is a major barrier to rehoming.

While the UK government has offered to take 20,000 refugees, councils are facing serious difficulties locating properties to home Afghan families and many, including Richmond, have launched appeals directed at private landlords as a result.

However, a Freedom of Information request by SWL revealed that only four private landlords offered houses in September following Richmond Council’s appeal.

Olney said: “For the refugees that made it to the UK, what we’re finding is that they have been put in a quarantine hotel and not given any more information on what to do next.

“We’re not hearing from the Home Office or the Foreign Office, or any kind of office what their plans are for resettling refugees.”

LEFT IN THE DARK: Richmond Park MP Sarah Olney

A spokesperson for Olney added: “In terms of getting into new homes, it will probably take around four to six months, and this is for families who are extremely desperate and were accepted by the government straight away.

“We are in limbo at the minute and the news has moved on.

“For most people, the shocking images and the sense of urgency and empathy towards Afghan families has moved on. People are starting to forget about it.”

The obstacles to rehousing come amid criticism over the Home Office’s handling of Operation Warm Welcome.

The military was called earlier this month to collect data from Afghan nationals across 80 bridging hotels allegedly in response to concerns over the lack of adequate support for Afghans.

Olney outlined urgent concerns over the lack of government communication to Afghan refugees in a letter sent on 3 September to the Minister for Afghan Resettlement, Victoria Atkins.

A general letter was sent in response to all MP offices weeks later, stating there was no capacity to address individual requests or updates.

Olney’s office said: “It wasn’t the answer we were looking for, but it answered our question on what the Home Office plans to do, which at this point is very little because they are in total chaos.”

Concern is also mounting for Afghan families wishing to escape and claim asylum in the UK.

Olney’s office added: “The Foreign Office is still not providing consular advice on how families still trapped in Afghanistan can apply for asylum in the UK. 

“We have families who can only contact us intermittently because they are hiding in basements. They are fearful, as they don’t know whether the Taliban can trace their calls.

“For the people still out there who want our support, we haven’t got any advice to give them because the Foreign Office has turned their back on them.”

Many of those left behind in Afghanistan will not qualify for government resettlement schemes, namely the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) and the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme (ACRS).

A UN Refugee Agency spokesperson told SWL: “Our principal concern for Afghan refugees is the treatment of those who arrive spontaneously in the UK, outside of organised resettlement schemes, who do not, therefore, qualify for support under ‘Warm Welcome’.

“They would be denied access to public funds unless destitute, and family reunion rights would be restricted. This is likely to damage mental health and hamper integration for those recognised as refugees.

“The costs – both financial, personal and social — will be high.”

The Home Office did not respond to a request for comment.

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