LONDON: The British Armed Forces have been called up to support data-collection efforts on thousands of Afghan refugees who are living in hotels while the Home Office is rumored to have lost control of the numbers.
Hundreds of soldiers are expected to visit more than 80 hotels that have been used as “bridging accommodation” for some 7,000 Afghans who were evacuated from Kabul in August.
Concerns have been raised over the lack of support while refugees are kept in hotels, with reports of insufficient supplies of essential items and a lack of accurate information on many of the Afghans.
The soldiers are expected to assist with gathering data on the most efficient ways to relocate the refugees into more permanent housing.
Data that the Home Office is required to collect includes their standard of English, specific requirements for their wellbeing, and finding local connections they may have in Britain.
This information was due to be completed by the end of the week so the Home Office could begin the final process of relocating the refugees, but the department has refused to rule out that some Afghans may remain in hotel accommodation by Christmas.
More than 8,000 Afghans were evacuated to the UK in August under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy.
A source involved in the care of Afghans relocated to the UK told The Times that the collection of data is being undertaken with the support of the military because the Home Office has “lost control” of the situation due to the chaos of the recovery.
The Refugee Council issued a report last month outlining how many Afghans in bridging accommodation did not have essential items such as sanitary products, toothpaste, nappies and medicines.
The report found that the refugees were lacking information on their future and had a limited understanding of the process they were undergoing.
A family stuck in a hotel in Lancashire, northern England, since August said they had not been given a reference number, depriving them of the opportunity to contact the Home Office and raise any concerns they might have.
This also meant that they were unable to get information on their case or the prospects of a permanent home in the future.
The parents reported feeling “abandoned” and “lost and very anxious” while their children had “nothing to do.”
The government said the military data-gathering operation is being carried out on behalf of the Home Office to enhance efforts to integrate Afghan refugees into communities across Britain. It added that the data will be shared with “relevant authorities.”
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said: “The mental health and wellbeing of families is extremely precarious, and it’s critical that everyone gets the support, advice and information they need so the warm welcome the government has promised becomes a reality rather than an aspiration.
“The best place for all the families is in homes, embedded in communities, and more councils must come forward to provide that.”
The Home Office rejected the accusation that it has lost control of the situation and the number of Afghans in hotels, insisting that the military is being asked to gather more accurate information.
A spokesman said: “The biggest and fastest emergency evacuation in recent history brought around 15,000 people to safety in the UK. A significant cross-government effort is under way to ensure the 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 their local communities.
“It is completely incorrect to suggest we do not know how many people are in hotels. Military personnel are supporting the Home Office to gather information that will help the government best match individuals and families into settled housing and support their integration into the UK.”