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Afghan Refugees in U.K. Still in Limbo as Ukrainians Arrive

LONDON — A toddler cries on his mom’s lap whereas his twin naps just a few toes away. The mom hushes their older siblings, who’re watching movies on an iPad within the subsequent room.

The mom, Seema Mohammed; her husband, Eid Mohammed; and their 5 kids have lived in two adjoining lodge rooms south of London since November after they fled Afghanistan. It’s a cramped and claustrophobic existence that seems like limbo whereas they await everlasting housing. However a reminder of what they left behind is just a video name away: Mr. Mohammed’s elder brother, a health care provider and former police officer, is in hiding again dwelling and desperately searching for a approach out.

“It’s a wrestle,” Mr. Mohammed stated. “Residing a life is totally different than staying alive.” He was referring to the household he left in Afghanistan, however the identical sentiment may apply to his present scenario.

Britain evacuated about 16,000 folks from Afghanistan final yr, most of them in the course of the chaotic remaining days of August because the Taliban out of the blue seized management of the nation. Most of them have been residing quickly in resorts throughout Britain ever since, a scenario that British lawmakers have stated is more and more untenable.

In February, the federal government stated that simply 4,000 Afghans delivered to Britain in the course of the mass evacuation had been moved into houses — leaving 12,000 nonetheless housed quickly in resorts.

With a brand new and even bigger refugee disaster exploding a lot nearer to dwelling now, officers are speaking about taking in tens of hundreds extra refugees from the conflict in Ukraine. However the expertise of Afghans has raised questions on whether or not the nation can address a lot bigger numbers when it has nonetheless not managed to settle hundreds of Afghans many months after they arrived.

The federal government has supplied a variety of causes for the shortcoming to seek out everlasting houses for the Afghan evacuees, key amongst them a scarcity of reasonably priced housing throughout the nation. However critics of the federal government say the scenario can be a results of inept planning, a scarcity of will and even a hostility towards asylum seekers and migrants typically.

“There’s a xenophobic perspective underpinning immigration and asylum coverage within the U.Ok.,” stated Steve Valdez-Symonds, the refugee and migrant rights program director for Amnesty U.Ok.

This criticism has been echoed with reference to the British authorities response to the refugee disaster created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has pushed thousands and thousands of individuals from their houses. A lot of Europe has allowed the refugees to enter with out visas, however Britain has required visas and an software course of that’s complicated many and slowing their arrival.

When requested concerning the delays in housing Afghan evacuees, the federal government stated that there was nonetheless no deadline to seek out everlasting housing for all of them, and that it was matching folks with lodging as shortly as potential.

Most of these evacuated had labored in Afghanistan for the British navy or authorities and fled with little greater than the garments on their backs, traumatized by their experiences.

Giant households are actually crowded into small rooms the place they can’t prepare dinner their very own meals, they usually have no idea the place or when they are going to be given a everlasting dwelling. Many stated they felt keen however unable to restart their lives.

Regardless of the tough circumstances, most Afghan refugees in Britain say they’re deeply grateful for the prospect at a secure future, with secure housing, ample meals and entry to medical care.

Nonetheless, Becky Brook, a volunteer with Kensington and Chelsea Mutual Assist, a group group supporting refugees in West London, stated the scenario was not sustainable. Households are more and more determined to maneuver on, amongst different causes, as a result of it’s tough for them to seek out work in the event that they have no idea the place they are going to be residing.

“Being in resorts long run will not be wholesome for anyone,” she stated.

For Khalil Motawakel, 37, who was evacuated from Afghanistan in August, having a everlasting dwelling close to London, the place he has managed to discover a job, would imply independence and safety. As a former authorities minister, he was as soon as liable for overhauling Afghanistan’s troubled jail system.

When it grew to become clear that the Taliban have been going to retake the nation and free its supporters from jail, he knew he can be a goal.

“Our lives have been below lethal menace,” he stated.

Mr. Motawakel, who earned a graduate diploma in public coverage on the College of Bristol in England, stated he had devoted his whole grownup life to strengthening democratic programs in Afghanistan and by no means thought he can be compelled to depart.

When he arrived in England in August, he was eager to right away restart his life, and by November, he had discovered a job at a world public relations agency. Now, he commutes just a few days every week to an workplace in London from his momentary dwelling in a lodge an hour north of town, the place he lives together with his spouse and small youngster.

Whereas they’ve all the necessities, and he’s grateful for the help, he’s looking forward to permanence.

“You’d wish to take some type of possession over your life,” he stated. “It’s concerning the freedom of alternative.”

Organizations that help refugees say the federal government system for absorbing migrants is flawed and underfunded. The Native Authorities Affiliation, which represents native councils tasked with making certain that the wants of Afghan households are met, has requested the federal government for higher funding and coordination.

Final month, the federal government asked private landlords to register obtainable properties on a relaunched housing portal. However the authorities’s reluctance to pay market worth for properties leaves restricted choices, stated Leyla Ferguson, the deputy director of West London Welcome, a charity aiding refugees and asylum seekers.

She stated the federal government’s failure to safe long-term housing was an issue for different asylum seekers lengthy earlier than Afghan refugees arrived final yr. Some 25,000 asylum seekers from totally different nations, along with the Afghan evacuees, are additionally housed in resorts, the federal government stated in February.

Charities and veterans have usually stepped in to fill the gaps left by authorities applications.

Matt Simmons, a veteran stationed in Afghanistan with the British Royal Air Pressure within the early 2000s, arrange Ems4Afghans, a group help group in southern England that gives help to the refugees nonetheless in resorts.

“It’s going to be a protracted highway,” he stated. “Naïvely, everybody thought after they first arrived that by December, everybody can be in homes quickly.”

Mr. Simmons has helped a variety of refugees, together with Mr. Mohammed, who praised him and different American and British former colleagues for his or her help.

Mr. Mohammed had labored as a translator for British and American navy forces and on a sequence of different internationally funded improvement initiatives for years starting in 2005.

Lately, he traveled together with his household to Lincoln, England, to go to a cousin. Along with his kids on a college break, the journey was a welcome respite from monotonous lodge life. It was additionally an opportunity to share home-cooked meals that they’d missed.

He described how he had savored one of many meals specifically — a dish fabricated from okra, greens and spices — that he had not had since leaving Afghanistan.

His kids bounced on a trampoline whereas he spoke on a video name to his elder brother, who’s in hiding in Afghanistan, and different relations there. The kids leaned ahead with large smiles and waved when their grandmother got here on the display.

Mr. Mohammed’s daughter, Sahar, threw her arms round his neck, her costume flowing with every bounce. There may be good right here, Mr. Mohammed stated, grateful to see his kids at school and secure.

“I can think about a vibrant future for my children now,” he stated.

One other Afghan refugee, Abdul Sultani, stated his household was lucky to have obtained everlasting housing in November — a small home in northeast London.

“I’m not right here to simply sit and watch. I’m right here to work,” he stated of the job he just lately began educating English. He sends among the cash he earns to his household in Afghanistan.

Mr. Sultani, 33, labored as a translator with the British and U.S. navy. He stated his kids have been overwhelmed by members of the Taliban as they made their option to the airport for his or her evacuation flight in August.

In the lounge, his 4-year-old daughter blows bubbles that her youthful sister pops, whereas he picks up a name: the native council providing English lessons to his spouse.

They’re the explanation he knew he needed to depart Afghanistan, he stated, and seeing that they’ve begun rebuilding their lives provides him solace.

“Nonetheless, it’s not my dwelling. I’m only a visitor right here,” he stated. “However I’ll all the time act like a visitor and attempt to be helpful to them as a result of they helped me.”

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