The Evacuation from Afghanistan: One Year On
One year ago, on 15th August 2021, hundreds of Afghan families were evacuated to Britain and accommodated in ‘transition hotels’ around the country. Many of those families are still living in those hotel rooms. Others continue to arrive sporadically, although the resettlement schemes have been criticised as slow and ineffective, with some arguing that Afghans continue to be failed by the British authorities. On 20th August, RSG honoured the 800-year-old tradition of Afghan kite flying as part of the Fly With Me festival, to display our solidarity with Afghan refugees and to show that we have not forgotten them.
Many of the 20,000 Afghans who have arrived in Britain over the last year were evacuated on the initial flights out of Kabul in mid-August ’21. More than half are still living in temporary hotel accommodation, unable to fully settle and begin to rebuild their lives. According to the Home Office, there are currently 25,000 asylum seekers and 12,000 Afghan refugees in transition hotels, a total of 37,000 people.
Some of those evacuated last year left behind spouses and young children. There is no route for them to be reunited with their family members still stuck in Afghanistan. We continue to call on the government to create a route to resettlement for direct family members of those in the UK under the ARAP and ACRS schemes. More and more people risking their lives to cross the channel are from Afghanistan – partly for this reason.
Throughout the year, private accommodation has been sourced for some of the families living in transition accommodation. Yet thousands are still living in the same hotel rooms, or have been transferred from one hotel to another. At the end of 2021, RSG was supporting two transition hotels in Berkshire. These have since condensed into one. We are currently working with around 43 families, a number which remains relatively consistent, as when one family moves out into private accommodation, another quickly moves in. Five babies have also been born in the hotel! Find out about the support RSG provides to Afghans in transition hotels in Berkshire here.
What Can I Do?
- Campaign for family reunion for Afghan families on the ACRS and ARAP resettlement schemes.
- Keep talking about the Afghans in transition accommodation to keep the issue on the agenda.
- Sign Action for Afghanistan’s petition to advocate for Afghan women-at-risk.
- Sign Safe Passage’s petition calling on Liz Truss to expand the resettlement schemes.
Offshoring to Rwanda
The passage of the Nationality and Borders Act in April 2022 paved the way for the use of offshore detention. On 13th April, the UK struck a highly unpopular deal with the Rwandan authorities to begin plans for removing people to Rwanda before hearing their asylum claims. The first flight was set to take off on 14th June, but was cancelled before take-off following an intervention from the European Court of Human Rights. It has since come to light that several of those people set to be on that flight are potential victims of trafficking. Despite much formal opposition, and its unpopularity even amongst some Conservative party members, Liz Truss has committed to extending the Rwanda policy to other countries.
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), Detention Action and Care4Calais are continuing with their legal action against the flights to Rwanda. The hearing, originally scheduled for 19th July, is now taking place the week of 5th September. While no removal flights are current taking place, asylum claimants are continuing to receive ‘notices of intent’ of removal after crossing the channel and arriving in the UK.
What Can I Do?
- Send a selfie holding a ‘Stop Rwanda’ or ‘No Offshoring to Rwanda’ sign to hari at rrsg.org.uk
- Freedom from Torture has created a petition you can sign calling on all Conservative leadership candidates to scrap the Rwanda scheme.
- City of Sanctuary has suggested tweets and social media resources you can use to contact Conservative leadership candidates on social media.
- Together with Refugees are organising a day of action against the Rwanda policy on Friday 23rd September. Local groups will make orange heart-shaped paper planes with messages to Liz Truss.
- Sign the Fight the #AntiRefugeeLaws pledge as an organisation or an individual, or write to your MP to ask them to do the same.
Closed Reception Centres
On 9th August, The Home Office has confirmed that the planned asylum accommodation centre on the RAF base at Linton-on-Ouse will be scrapped, after the Ministry of Defence withdrew permission for use of the site. Local politicians and members of the public had strongly opposed the plans, particularly as there was no consultation with MPs, councils or local residents.
The government has announced they will be using the repurposed military facilities the accommodate asylum claimants as a cheaper alternative to hotel accommodation. The first ex-military facility to be converted would have been this former RAF base in Linton-on-Ouse, a village of 600 people. The centre was set to accommodate 1,500 single men between the ages of 18 and 40. Despite the setback, the Home Office has stated its intention to continue with the plan of ‘Greek-style’ reception centres. A number of charities have written jointly to the Home Secretary and the Defence Secretary asking them to abandon plans for further accommodation centres in the wake of the Home Office’s failed experiment at the former RAF site at Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire.
Meanwhile, despite the government’s commitment in 2016 to shrink the British detention estate, the Home Office announced on 28th June that Campsfield House detention centre in Oxfordshire, which closed in 2018, will reopen in late 2023. A mixture of refurbished and new-build accommodation, the centre will be designed for around 400 men: foreign national offenders and so-called ‘immigration offenders’ set to be removed from the UK.
Layla Moran (MP for the area that Campsfield falls into) has secured an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on Friday 9th September, entitled Proposed reopening of Campsfield House immigration removal centre, which is expected to begin around 2:30pm.
What Can I Do?
- The Action Network has created a template MP letter to oppose the use of repurposed military accommodation centres. it takes just two minutes! Download as a document here.
- Join the Coalition to Keep Campsfield Closed. Coalition meetings take place on the first Tuesday of each month. The next meeting is on Tuesday 2nd August at 6pm: please join here.
- Attend the Campsfield protest outside Parliament on Friday 9th September.
- Sign Layla Moran’s petition here.
- Use BID’s tool to ask your MP to support Layla Moran’s Early Day Motion.
- Share the coalition’s online leaflet.