Operation Warm Welcome for Afghans has not lived up to potential – think tank

Refugees were brought to the UK from from Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover in August 2021 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Refugees were brought to the UK from from Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover in August 2021 (Dominic Lipinski/PA) Refugees were brought to the UK from from Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover in August 2021 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Many Afghan families have been let down by the promised warm welcome to the UK, a think tank said as it called for lessons to be learned so future groups of refugees can be better supported.

More In Common, an organisation founded in the wake of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, recognised the success of efforts to settle thousands of people into permanent accommodation after fleeing the Taliban takeover two years ago.

But, in a report published on Tuesday to coincide with the anniversary, it said there had been failings in areas including the housing and accommodation, funding and integration of Afghans into local communities.

In its research with a small group of refugees, the organisation said they had heard about “failures of communication with local authorities and the Home Office on housing, the stress and anxiety of trying to ‘find your own accommodation’, the repeated rejection of applications, and unsuitable offers of accommodation being made – either not taking into account job prospects or in areas hundreds of miles away”.

One example saw a refugee living in temporary so-called bridging accommodation in Bristol for almost a year offered permanent accommodation in Northern Ireland.

They rejected the offer due to wanting to be near family in Bristol, and had a further 20 applications for properties declined “because I don’t have the background of renting a house in (the) UK”, adding that the financial support provided by Government appeared to make no difference to landlords’ decisions.

More In Common’s survey with 132 Afghans in the UK suggested the majority prioritised housing, financial support and finding a job when asked what extra support they needed for themselves and their families.

The organisation said both its survey and interviews saw local authorities receive “the brunt of criticism for the failings of the past two years”.

The report said: “Many refugees’ offers for housing and jobs fell through because local authorities were too slow to react and not agile enough in finding solutions to complex challenges.”

It said local authorities “had no incentive to act quickly on finding permanent accommodation for Afghans – partly because the government funding model was too slow to give them the tools they needed, and partly because the Home Office was paying for temporary accommodation up until an Afghan refugee presents as homeless as which point the local authority would be liable”.

It also suggested that as many as one in five local authorities had “opted out of involvement in Afghan resettlement or taken any of the available budget” provided by the Government.

In 2021, the Government pledged a “significant cross-government effort” dubbed “Operation Warm Welcome”, which was meant to “ensure Afghans arriving in the UK receive the vital support they need to rebuild their lives, find work, pursue education and integrate into their local communities”.

Since then, while thousands have moved into settled accommodation, many others have remained in hotels, and in recent months were given a deadline by the Government of the end of August to find other accommodation, prompting the Local Government Association to warn of the risks of some families becoming homeless.

The More In Common report said: “Despite the promise of Operation Warm Welcome and the speed of its establishment, it is clear that it has not lived up to its potential.

“The British public’s generosity of spirit towards Afghan refugees has not been met by what has so far been delivered by local and national Government.

“The result is that many Afghan families have been let down.”

The organisation said any future schemes for refugees must include what kind of bridging accommodation is most appropriate and said there should be “clear expectations and responsibilities for moving into permanent accommodation”, with a “tighter timetable” for how long this arrangement should last.

It added that there must be support such as education and employment opportunities, cultural awareness and English lessons to help with integration, saying “a failure to properly invest in integration support is clearly a false economy”.

More in Common UK director Luke Tryl, said: “We must ensure that when it comes to future cohorts of Afghan arrivals, or those fleeing conflict and persecution more broadly, what is delivered by the government matches up with the welcoming generosity of spirit the public expect.”

Sunder Katwala, director of the think tank British Future, said: “The welcome for many of those evacuated from Afghanistan has been far from warm. Some have spent those last two years in cramped hotel rooms and now face eviction, with uncertainty about what happens next.

“The Government should be doing more to set this right. As we mark this second anniversary, it should look again at how to unlock the appetite across British society – from faith groups, military charities and citizens – to play an active part in helping Afghan families settle in Britain.”

The Government has previously said it has provided a “generous offer” to Afghan refugees, “backed by £285 million of funding for local authorities, to help families make arrangements to leave their bridging hotels and serviced apartments”.

A spokesperson for the Local Government Association (LGA) said councils had worked “incredibly hard” in the past two years to provide support to Afghan families but that a combination of increased demand, a shortage of housing, and other pressures from asylum and resettlement schemes “has made it extremely challenging” for the families to find affordable, long-term accommodation in the areas where they want to live.

It accepted there are “lessons to be learned to make sure that any future schemes run more smoothly” but blamed a “delay in funding and guidance from Government for creating a lot of uncertainty about what was needed and expected from councils” and said it had raised concerns early on about “the need for data-sharing and for close, joint-working between Government and council staff on the ground to enable good planning to take place with families”.

A Government spokesperson said it continues to work “closely with local authorities and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) on hotel departures in order to speed up the resettlement of Afghans into settled accommodation”.

They added: “Over 10,500 Afghans so far have been supported out of bridging hotels and into long-term accommodation and we will continue to make offers of suitable housing, which we strongly encourage Afghan families to accept.”