No money, no accommodation, no advice – Afghans stuck in UK hotel limbo
OHis father’s desperation caught the attention of volunteer Anwar Zazay as he left nail clippers, toiletries and other stuffed animals for Afghans arriving at the Radisson Blu in Manchester near the airport.
Her toddler’s infection had worsened three weeks after arriving in the UK as he struggled to get medical help. The child was unable to sit, eat or sleep. The father, Akhtar Khan *, a former member of the Afghan special forces trained in the UK, spoke little English.
Mr Zazay, a volunteer for the charity Care4Calais, urged Mr Khan to seek help from the Home Office and left. But as he approached his home, he phoned the family and personally drove them to Manchester Hospital and explained their situation to them.
“He’s a little baby, I have a little baby,” said the father of two.
After several hours of waiting, blood tests and checks, the toddler was prescribed antibiotics and Mr. Zazay drove the family back to their hotel.
Mr. Zazay says Afghans fleeing the Taliban are not only traumatized but confused.
âThe translators didn’t explain anything clearly. They should write clear instructions in Pashto and Dari with specific details on how to reach officials. It’s lacking right now, âhe said.
As part of the UK government’s Operation Warm Welcome, Afghan families have been promised vital health, education, employment support and the housing they need to âintegrate fully into societyâ.
But a month after their arrival, Afghan special forces and their families tell The independent they are still stuck in hotels without clear guidelines from the authorities on permanent accommodation, do not have access to money, schools or language learning facilities.
British government noted he had evacuated 8,000 Afghan citizens and their families as part of the Afghan Resettlement and Assistance Policy (ARAP)
The exact figure of Afghan asylum seekers at the Radisson Blu hotel near the airport is difficult to obtain. Mr Zazay estimates there could be 200 or more, of whom nearly half are children. The area is devoid of parks or shopping centers. Families of up to four or five are crammed into single rooms. Locals urge volunteers to provide free rides to families wishing to attend Friday prayers.
âLanguage is the biggest obstacle,â Zazay said, adding that the Interior Ministry should do more to translate their culture.
The performers here [in the UK] unfamiliar with local colloquialisms and cultural intricacies, says Zazay. Cultural disparities widen for families arriving from remote villages. Mr Zazay says that women often feel like they are poorly dressed without their kameez (a longer tunic).
âThey always ask me for longer dresses,â he says, adding that this automatically prevents women from going out.
He warns that the government should make arrangements for women and children who are at risk of being socially excluded.
âLocal councils and health partners relocating families will also receive up to Â£ 4,500 per child for education, Â£ 850 to cover teaching English to adults in need of this support and Â£ 2,600 to cover health care, “said a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry.
But Mr. Zazay emphasizes: âThe children will have lost at least one school year while waiting for the government to process their asylum applications.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said the councils had received generous integration funding to support those starting new lives in the UK – with Â£ 20,520 per refugee spread over three years to cover costs . No precise timetable has been given for moving asylum seekers to permanent accommodation or education.
Arriving in the UK almost 15 years ago, Zazay can relate to asylum seekers caught in a quagmire while trying to navigate social and employment systems.
In the late 1990s, after the Taliban imposed strict Islamic laws, Mr Zazay’s father arrived in Manchester after fleeing the verdant mountains of Paktia province in south-eastern Afghanistan. Mr. Zazay followed suit in 2007. After completing his studies in management information systems, he successfully embarked on information. security and surveillance company.
Regarding the Taliban, Zazay says, “What they promise and what they do are two different things,” echoing similar words from his fathers two decades ago.
9 miles away, the six-story Radisson-run Park Inn hotel in the city center is far from the airport hotel. Here, mothers wearing scarves are seen walking in and out of revolving doors, visiting nearby fountains and parks.
Afghan Special Forces soldier Ajab Gul has been staying at the hotel for over a month. Doctors arrive on call, says Gul, even if there is a wait.
The hotel receptionist said the government has reserved rooms for Afghan families to be quarantined, but she will not specify the number of occupations or the length of their stay.
Mr Gul says his British advisers quickly processed his documents. But the blocked roads, reek of filth and jostling, prevented him from traveling with his family. Some women and children deceased try to make the trip.
âMy family is there. I’m alone here, âhe said thoughtfully, especially fearing for his wife and four children. He says video calls multiple times a day keep him sane.
âI want someone to ask me who stayed and if I need help,â Mr. Gul said. Information is scarce on the exact deadlines for processing his family’s papers. A stamp, declaring no official status, grants him one year to stay in the country.
Some people get the patch for a year and others for six months, says Gul. He relies on charities for food and clothing and has no money to buy anything else.
Mr. Zazay donated 500 phone SIM cards, charging cables and used phones, so families can stay in touch.
Yet Mr. Gul feels lucky to have fled the Taliban despite the daily fighting, after seeing hundreds of his colleagues abandoned, in hiding, fearing for their loved ones.
Indignant at the UK government’s data breach exposing the sensitive information of dozens of his colleagues, he said, âwe have no feelings; our feelings are dead because of all who are suffering from this situation. I don’t know how long it will take to bring them back.
A new start in life
Unlike Mr. Gul, Special Forces soldier Mirza Jan is happy to have escaped the violence and brutal economic crisis, along with his family of five. Her youngest child is one year old. Mr Jan says he hopes for the start of temporary classrooms in hotels, but the Home Office has not provided any official guidance.
âWe go out every day to visit the park and walk around the city center,â he says, as the sound of the Adhan (Islamic call to prayer) in the background momentarily brings him back to his country.
âWe have more hope and dreams for our children here. It’s a new start in life. “
Mr Khan’s toddler’s infection recovered and his wife, who was five months pregnant, was able to see a doctor after four weeks. An NHS issue this week signals new hope for her and her unborn child.
The Department of Work and Pensions said it was launching surgeries across the country, led by experienced work coaches with translators.
Back home, Mr. Gul, with Afghan Commando Force 333, was tasked with conducting complex counterterrorism operations alongside British forces. Eager to work for the British Army, he said with a smile, âwe are well trainedâ.
* Names have been changed to protect the identity of soldiers and their families