Anger at UK Home Office after Afghan refugees say they feel like 'prisoners' in 'quarantine hotels'
Afghan refugees say they feel like "prisoners" in UK quarantine hotels, unable to move freely and unaware of what will happen to them next.
Around 10,000 Afghans spent 10 days quarantining in "Covid-19 secure" accommodation - such as government-run hotels near Heathrow Airport, West London - after being rushed out of Kabul following the Taliban's takeover on 15 August.
Refugees have described the experience as like a prison, with bad food, tight security, and limited access to fresh air and hygiene facilities.
"We are prisoners inside here, but even prisoners are allowed to go outside for an hour or two a day," former high-ranking Afghan official Hasib Nooralam told The Guardian. Nooralam has been staying in the Park Plaza Hotel near London Waterloo for 20 days.
"In 24 hours, we're allowed out for just 15 minutes, There are a lot of children inside this hotel too. People are fed up and crying," he added.
The New Arab received reports from the Refugee Council that families did not have "the basics - things like clothing, toiletries, shoes, sims for their phones food" at quarantine hotels.
Charities were forced to fill the shortfall, delivering donations of nappies, sanitary pads, and sometimes food.
"We've been hearing about this experience for a year and a half," said Maddie Harris from Humans for Rights Network. Asylum seekers and refugees in government-run hotels "describe being controlled and being surveilled".
Harris added that those in state-run accommodation received little official support from government contractors and it was difficult for refugee organisations to find and access the hotels in order to provide assistance.
Despite offers of a "warm welcome" and the promise of permanent accommodation, some Afghans say they have received no information from the UK Home Office on where they will go next.
Many have been in quarantine accommodation for longer than the mandatory 10 days.
"The Government promised us we would be provided with accommodation right after our quarantine, but now it has been two days [more]. They have not communicated with us about the next steps," said Abdul, a 25-year-old Afghan.
"We feel like we are in a prison now because our quarantine period has passed, but why are they still keeping us here?" he said.
A letter from the UK government, sent to the refugees in the hotel last week and seen by The Guardian, some Afghans were told they can stay in the quarantine hotels free of charge "until onwards accommodation is arranged", but they must "observe Covid secure measures".
The UK Government has been scrambling to find accommodation for the Afghan refugees evacuated to the UK under the Afghan Relocations Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme.
The ARAP scheme - under which over 8,000 Afghans are eligible to come to the UK - sits separately from the 20,000 Afghans to be resettled in the UK in the next five years under the government's new Afghan Citizens' Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), the Home Office has said.
One of the latest estimates was "over 2,000 places [had] already" been confirmed and the government was working with more than 100 councils.
This leaves around a third to a half of Afghans still in need of a place to stay, according to reports.
Generous offers from the UK public to use spare rooms and negotiations with holiday park owners have failed to fill the gaps.
The New Arab contacted the UK Home Office who did not provide further information on how many homes are secured for Afghan refugees. They also did not respond to allegations of prison-like treatment in the hotels.
Asylum seekers in UK hotels had previously told The New Arab that they had waited months to hear back from the UK Home Office. The uncertain conditions and limited access to services were causing their mental health to deteriorate, they said.
It is estimated that up to 15,000 asylum seekers are currently in government-managed accommodation across the UK.