Operation ‘Warm Welcome’

The UK Government’s initiative to help Afghan evacuees to settle in Britain,  named ‘Operation Warm Welcome’ has already been characterised by failure of communication, failure of provisions and failure of support.

Approximately 8,000 Afghans in the UK as part of this evacuation programme, with more than half of them children, have been sent to quarantine at hotels on arrival. Unfortunately many are still in them now.  After quarantining they are sent to a bridging hotel, which is meant to accommodate them while they wait for housing to allow them to start a new life here.

The Home Office has been called upon to do more to help the Afghan refugees having ‘dumped ‘ them in quarantine hotels across the UK without informing local authorities about what was going on. There is food in the quarantine hotels, but very little else, no medicine, no toiletries, no sanitary products, no nappies, no baby food and no toys.  The Refugee Council report that no support has been given to families to establish contact with family members, including those still in Afghanistan.

This has been a traumatising experience for everyone involved, being trapped in a hotel room with no opportunity to leave the grounds, no essential goods, or information regarding what’s going to happen only adds to this trauma. These families that have just got out of a war zone and feared for their lives appear to have been left in quarantine and left to fend for themselves.

A volunteer for an Afghan community group  says that it is ‘overwhelming’, they have been distributing goods to many in quarantine.

The essential services which the Government should have been providing have been delivered where possible by support groups.  Charities such as the Refugee Council, the Afghan Association of London, the Afghan Association Paiwand and the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association fortunately stepped in.

Many local councillors have also got involved but have had to plead for information as to where the Afghan refugees were and how many of them were there.  Many were contacted directly by the hotels, who had given up on hoping that the Government would provide what was needed.  They went to work sourcing clothing, toiletries food and bringing it to the refugees.

Enver Soloman, CEO of the Refugee Council, which has been desperately trying to get essentials to Afghan evacuees, hit out at the Home Office saying: “The government has worked hard to respond to this unprecedented situation, but it is alarming that traumatised families and children have been left without basics, such as sanitary products and medicine, and with little or no information as to what is happening to them.  It is vital that interim accommodation is safe and appropriate to help them to recover and be able to rebuild their lives”.

The many problems don’t appear to have gone away once the refugees made it to the bridging hotels.  Refugee support groups, including Refugee Council, report of families who did not receive money from the Home Office, leaving them penniless for up to two weeks and relying on volunteers.  They haven’t received any health or mental health services or education information or any guidance on how to claim benefits.  Many have asked for legal advice, because they have not been informed how long they are going to be allowed to stay in the UK.

One of the most evident distinctions is between the government and the response of civil society.  Volunteers have worked all hours of the day to get supplies to evacuees.  Community groups report of the extraordinary generosity of local people supplying any goods that are needed.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said of central government.  It is a high-speed situation in which officials are bound to make mistakes not helped by the fact that the crisis fell during August, when people were away.  However, the absence of infrastructure did not occur by accident.  It is the direct result of policy, specifically the consequence of the Hostile Environment – which the then Home Secretary Theresa May said in 2012 – she wanted to create for ‘illegal immigrants’.

Regardless of the approach of the Home Office for years, they are now suddenly being asked to do do something completely different and deliver ‘Operation Warm Welcome’ but has no idea how to do it.

The failures which are evident and which campaign groups are raising are typical of the way the Home Office often behaves towards refugees, depriving them of essentials, of information, support and the basic requirements of a dignified life.  This is now being inflicted on those who managed to escape from Afghanistan.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “A significant cross-Government effort is underway to ensure thousands of Afghans who were evacuated to the UK receive the support they need to rebuild their lives, find work, pursue education and integrate into local communities”.

“We continue to work with local authorities to source appropriate accommodation as quickly as possible, although we have had to use hotels as a temporary measure due to unprecedented demand”.

“Families are given full board and meals, and we are working to ensure they have the essential items and specific support they need.  The Government will also be issuing cash cards, with emergency funds available to those who need it in the interim”.