Since June 2021, around 24,600 people from Afghanistan have been safely relocated to the United Kingdom. We owe them a debt of gratitude, and in return our offer has been generous. The UK Government have granted all Afghans relocated through safe and legal routes indefinite leave to remain, including the immediate right to work, alongside access to the benefits system and vital health, education and employment support.
Given the unprecedented speed and scale of the 2021 evacuation, we warmly welcomed our Afghan friends into temporary hotel accommodation until settled accommodation could be found. However, bridging hotels are not, and were never designed to be, a permanent solution. Indeed, in a statement to this House in March, I made it clear that it was unjustifiable for around a third of those relocated from Afghanistan still to be living in costly bridging accommodation up to 18 months after arriving to safety in the UK. Long-term residency in hotels prevented some families from properly putting down roots and was costing UK taxpayers £1 million a day. That was not sustainable. That is why, at the end of April, we began issuing notices to quit to the 8,000 individuals who remained in bridging accommodation, making it clear that access to costly hotels would end following a minimum three-month notice period and encouraging moves into settled accommodation.
I am pleased to confirm that, as of
That required a considerable national effort and represents a significant national achievement, and I extend my thanks to colleagues across central Government, as well as to local authorities and third sector partners, who have all played a part. Without dedicated caseworking teams and councils, in addition to the £285 million funding package I announced in March, this mammoth task would not have been possible.
Not only are we on track to deliver 1,200 homes for Afghans through the local authority housing fund, which will help build a sustainable stock of affordable accommodation for the future, but we have mobilised the generosity of the Great British public by creating an innovative new Afghan housing portal, which enabled conscientious landlords to offer their rental properties directly to families. Furthermore, each local authority that receives an Afghan family can access £20,500 per person over three years to provide wraparound integration support, as well as additional funding for English language classes. I urge local authorities to continue taking full advantage of the generous funding offer the Government have put in place.
As I told the House in July, the Government have made time-limited interim accommodation available to a minority of families. That is available only to those for whom a move would disrupt ongoing medical treatment at a specific hospital and those who have been pre-matched to a property that will be available before the end of December. As of
As I have set out, the overwhelming majority of Afghans have now moved into settled accommodation or been pre-matched to a property. That is testament to the significant central Government support that has been put in place. Despite that support, however, some families have moved into temporary accommodation under local authority homelessness provision. That is less than 5% of the 24,600 people we have relocated from Afghanistan. Of those families in temporary accommodation, around a quarter have a property to move into in the coming weeks.
Others in temporary accommodation have, regrettably, turned down suitable offers of accommodation. I have been clear and honest from the outset that, where that happens, another Government offer will not be forthcoming. At a time when there are many pressures on the taxpayer and the housing market, it is not right that people can reject perfectly suitable offers of accommodation and expect to remain in taxpayer-funded hotels. However, in recognition of the pressures councils may face as a result of housing Afghans in temporary accommodation, an additional £9,150 per household has been made available to councils by central Government. That is in addition to the wider £2 billion available over three years to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping.
Let me be clear: we have not left Afghan families without a roof over their heads. I continue to work closely with central and local government partners to help the small minority of families in local authority-provided temporary accommodation to find settled accommodation across the United Kingdom. However, we must all continue to play our part in delivering a helping hand to our Afghan friends, to whom we owe so much. I encourage those who can do so to offer private rented accommodation, speak to their local council or list their property on the Government’s Afghan housing portal, which remains operational.
We also take seriously our commitment to resettling Afghans yet to arrive in the UK, including those eligible for our schemes who are still in Afghanistan. However, our efforts to move people out of hotels has shown how vital it is that they are moved directly into long-term settled accommodation, where they can put down roots in the community. That is why we are taking forward plans to source suitable accommodation ahead of facilitating new arrivals.
Welcoming people who come to the UK through safe and legal routes has always been, and will always be, a vital way in which our country helps those in need. In that spirit, I look forward in the months ahead to welcoming more of those who loyally served alongside the UK’s armed forces in Afghanistan, as well as those who stood up for British values, often at great personal risk. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of the statement.
Today’s statement is, though, a continuation of a shameful saga of Government failure when it comes to the Afghans who served alongside our forces in Afghanistan. The Minister has come here today looking for a pat on the back for booting people out of hotels, but he fundamentally misunderstands that across this House we gave a commitment to those who served alongside our forces that we would do right by them when they arrived on our shores and that, despite many now being in permanent homes, that commitment is still not being delivered. Thousands are still waiting in limbo in Pakistan, and thousands are still waiting for family reunion. Despite having been asked repeatedly whether his eviction scheme would make any family homeless, the Minister has today confirmed that Afghans in bridging hotels are accessing local authority homelessness support.
The Opposition are proud of our armed forces and of the Afghans who served alongside them in the years in Afghanistan. I pay tribute to all those involved in Operation Pitting, but our commitments were given not just to those who came out on those planes; they were given to people who served alongside our forces and who worked for them. It is that wider commitment that the Minister has not addressed in his statement and that I would like to ask more about. I agree with him that Afghans should not have been left in bridging hotels, but his Government decided to do that for 18 months. Where is the apology from him for that policy of neglect?
I would be grateful if the Minister could now provide more detail on a number of questions. First, how many Afghans and their families are still in a form of time-limited accommodation approved by the Minister’s Government? When does he expect that figure to be zero? For any new arrivals on the approved schemes, as tiny as those numbers are, will they be placed in bridging accommodation or will they automatically be given a home straight away? How will that work? Will the financial package for the evictions also apply for those new and future arrivals, and how much has been set aside for that?
The Minister has given no detail in any of his statements to the House about how much this eviction process has cost taxpayers in total, and he has not said where that money is coming from. Is it from the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office or the tiny budget of the Office for Veterans’ Affairs? How much in total does he estimate will be spent in clearing up the Government’s mess after leaving Afghans in hotels for 18 months?
Why are there nearly 750 Afghans waiting more than two years for their ARAP application to be processed? What is the Ministry of Defence doing to get nearly 600 ARAP-eligible people and their families who are still in Afghanistan out of harm’s way from the Taliban? How many Afghans are still in hotel accommodation in Pakistan, paid for by the UK taxpayer? How many of them have been told that the UK Government will not be paying their bills in the future? What are the Government doing to get the people to whom we made a promise out of Pakistan and to safety in the United Kingdom?
The Minister used some unclear language in his statement when he talked about how many people are in temporary accommodation under local authority homeless provision. He said it is less than 5% of 24,600. In July, I challenged him to say that no Afghan family who helped our forces in Afghanistan would be homeless because of his policy of evictions. The Minister said at the time that, given what was on offer,
“there is no reason why Afghans should present as homeless at the end of this process.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 736, c. 809.]
We can see that now. Would it not be clearer if the Minister, rather than saying less than 5% of 24,600, said that 1,000 people are accessing homelessness provision because of his policy? Can he give a precise number of how many Afghans whom he has evicted are accessing the homelessness provision of local authorities up and down the country?
We gave a solemn pledge that we would support those people who served our armed forces. The Minister is smiling at that commitment, but 1,000 people accessing homelessness support is not something to smile about. This is not the opportunity for a giggle on the Front Bench; this is an opportunity for us to be taken seriously as a nation, because we promised people who arrived in the United Kingdom, people fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan and those still in Pakistan that we would provide safety. He has done some of that with his eviction policy, but more needs to be done. [Interruption.] I know he is finding this funny, and he is giggling on the Front Bench, but this is not funny.
I know all too well from the casework I have been doing for Afghan families—[Interruption.] There is a lot of attack coming from those on the Government Benches, but this is a serious point, so let me finish. I know all too well from the casework I am doing for Afghan families and interpreters based in Plymouth in my constituency that they have family members on the run from the Taliban in Afghanistan who still fear for their lives. We gave a solemn promise to some of those people that we would get them out. Can the Minister set out how we will get those people out and how we will bring them to safety, because that serious promise deserves to be honoured?
The Minister wants praise on this matter, but he should have apologised for the myriad Government failures. There is a chance now to address all of them—not just his evictions policy, but the issue of those in Pakistan and Afghanistan and those who still do not have the safety and promise of safety that we offered.
That was pretty embarrassing from the hon. Gentleman. It was disappointing to receive a typically unpleasant response to the hundreds of people who have worked across the country to deliver this policy. I stood in this House and promised that we would close bridging hotels, which were totally unsuitable for Afghans, by
The hon. Gentleman talks about the funding that has been thrown at this issue. If he had been listening to anything that goes on, rather than reading out some student statement in the House of Commons, he would know that none of the £285 million came from the OVA budget. He said that budget is tiny, but it did not exist at all under his party, and his party has no plans to replace it. It is not tiny in the first place. I will not spend a lot of time on this answer, because it was an incredibly disappointing response to a serious issue. Nobody on the Government Benches was laughing. He comes up with these clips for his social media platform, and it is embarrassing for the rest of us. This Government are committed to delivering on our responsibilities when it comes to migration. We promised that we would close bridging hotels by
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, because he lives in a different world. All the bridging hotels are closed, and nobody has slept rough. I am proud of the team that has delivered that. We have not done it for him or for a pat on the back from the Labour party; we have done it because it is the right thing to do for the Afghan people, because on this side of the House we believe in something and in doing right by these people, and we will deliver on our promises to them as we continue into the future.
I thank the Minister for dealing appropriately with the response from the Opposition Front Bench. During the next week I would like him, or one of his colleagues, to follow up the case that I raised with the Leader of the House last Thursday. An International Security Assistance Force commander said of that person that he,
“because of his service in support of the NATO Armed Forces in the Afghan Theatre of Combat Operations…has suffered and continues suffering threats to the life and property of himself.”
I know that is not for the Minister to answer today, but I make that request. I want to be approached by the right person to find out how we can solve that problem.
My office will have heard that today. We will ensure that that individual’s case—I saw my hon. Friend’s question last week—is raised with my office. We will do everything we can to provide him with an answer and to see where we go from there.
“For every Afghan person who arrived in the UK on a resettlement scheme in the year ending March 2023, almost 90 crossed the Channel in a small boat.”
This is a sign of a Government who are failing in their commitment to Afghans. Every Afghan on a boat should have been able to reach here by the schemes that the Government have set up; it is a sign of failure that they have not.
The Government promised to resettle 5,000 Afghan refugees in the first year and 20,000 over the coming years, but since that announcement only 54 have been newly resettled under the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, and the schemes are now apparently dormant, despite a great need for them. To give an example, prior to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the Western Isles-based charity the Linda Norgrove Foundation was supporting 165 female students, including 96 studying medicine. Those women are not allowed to continue their studies in Afghanistan, and have gone from being trainee doctors to house helpers. Despite that, five Scottish medical schools are very supportive of allowing 20 Afghan students to travel to Scotland and complete their studies, and all have agreed to offer them places, yet the ACRS has not reopened, despite the UK Government saying that it would within a year. There is no commitment for these women to come to Scotland, despite the places being there and those women being welcome, and I ask the Minister to reflect on that.
People have been left behind. I had dozens of families get in touch with me at the fall of Afghanistan, desperate to get their relatives out, but I know of only a handful who were able to make it to Scotland. The Minister has left them behind. Can he tell me about the ACRS? How many expressions of interest have the Government received on the scheme? How many of those are sitting in a pile yet to be processed, because my constituents have heard nothing about their expressions of interest?
Moving to the situation of Afghans in hotels, I understand from the local MSP and Cabinet Secretary Jenny Gilruth that 54 Afghans were given notice to quit from a hotel in Glenrothes. She is aware of no impact assessment and no discussion with local authorities prior to that decision being made. When she raised the matter with the Minister for Immigration, she got nothing but a pat response with no detail on what she had raised. That is clearly not acceptable from the Government; they need to do much better if that is the level of engagement.
We all know from our casework that there are lots of reasons why people might not take up the first offer of accommodation they are given. Is the Minister confident that people do not have legitimate reasons, such as family ties or links to the local community, or many other reasons why they do not want to be thrust out of the accommodation they are in and into somewhere with which they are completely unfamiliar and without a support network? That will cause far more damage in the long run, rather than supporting people properly, which the Government are clearly failing to do.
I do reflect on what the hon. Member says in terms of individuals who remain in Afghanistan. She will know of my concerns in that space. This statement is clearly about those who are here and those for whom we had to do a huge job of work to get out of hotels and into accommodation. There was an extensive engagement process with local authorities—I had all the local authorities on calls many times, and I met many of them face to face—so it is simply not correct that people did not have notice. I am happy to go away and look at her case, but I can guarantee that the answer is that the hotel was given notice and that there were Home Office workers in that hotel, because I ensured that there were in every one.
This has been an incredibly difficult process, but what I will not allow to happen is traducing of the work of those officials in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Home Office who worked throughout the summer, day and night, to ensure that we met the target. They have done an extremely good job. Nobody would begin to think that Afghanistan is anything but a human tragedy of epic proportions, and we are trying to salvage what we can from that.
As for my comments on future movements, it is right that individuals come here and go into settled accommodation and not into hotels, because hotels are unsuitable, as we have seen time and again. As I have said, the Government will honour our commitments to those who served.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. Will he join me in encouraging councils and legally resettled Afghans to utilise broader mainstream support such as English language classes and unemployment support, in particular through Department for Work and Pensions work coaches?
Absolutely. In August, we spent a lot of time going around these hotels, exploring and then confirming some of the support available to Afghans in different areas. Much of that support is included in the package, with £9,000 per family and £7,000 per person. We then have the £20,000 integration fund over three years, and there is £28 per person, per day for up to six months for those still in temporary accommodation. So there is every opportunity for these Afghans to properly integrate into British society, to learn English and those wrap-around skills, and to build a decent life in the UK, as we promised them when we evacuated them in Operation Pitting.
The statement is on Afghan resettlement, so I hope that the Minister can assist me. What progress has been made with councils and other accommodation providers to bring to the UK the cohort of ARAP-approved Afghans waiting in third countries? Has he considered a Homes for Ukraine-style scheme?
I understand what the right hon. Member is getting at. My responsibility was clearly to get these individuals out of hotels so that we could begin that process of bringing people in Afghanistan who need to be here back to the UK. All options are being considered in that space. The Government recognise that there are people in Afghanistan we owe and who should be in the UK, and we will have more to say on that in due course.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his leadership and co-ordination across Government Departments in securing such a positive outcome. The Vale of Glamorgan has been proud to play its part. Afghan families were originally located in the Copthorne Hotel in Wenvoe in my constituency and are now settled and welcomed in St Athan in my constituency—a proud community with many service personnel. I recently met many of those Afghan families—some were translators, some were intelligence officers and some were security guards at the British embassy in Afghanistan. When time permits, will he agree to come and meet those families so that he can better understand the networks needed locally with the Department for Work and Pensions, the jobcentres and social services so that there can be a better understanding of the practical needs on the ground, as well as to recognise the gratitude they are showing to the UK for that support?
I would love to come and see that work taking place. I know that where individuals have engaged with the Government and the scheme, there are some incredible stories of how Afghans have relocated into these communities. One of the things we did was build a taskforce of Afghan nationals who were driving people around communities in the UK and introducing them to landlords. We really did see something quite special over the summer in that joined-up effort to meet this challenge. I would love to come down to see that. The Government’s commitment to this is enduring—there is no point in doing this and then, in three years, finding there is a problem with Afghans sleeping rough—and I will personally see it through.
I thank the Minister again for visiting the Afghans at the hotel in Cardiff with me a few months ago. Will he join me in paying tribute not only to the staff of his Department and others, but to the staff of Vale of Glamorgan Council, Cardiff Council and the Welsh Government, who worked co-operatively to try to ensure that they found homes? Will he give me the exact statistics on how many people were homeless at the end? He promised that none would be, but I understand that a small number in Cardiff and the Vale were. If he does not have that to hand, perhaps he could write to me. What has been done on equivalency of qualifications? At that meeting, many of the Afghans raised with him that they cannot get jobs because their qualifications from Afghanistan are not being recognised. What has he done with the DWP to resolve that?
I will come back to the hon. Member on equivalency in due course. There is an issue with getting the healthcare workers we want to see into the NHS, and we are working on that at the moment. I promised that no one would be sleeping rough at the end of the process, but I never promised that nobody would not apply for homelessness—I cannot force people to live in certain houses. However, I can ensure him that nobody sleeps rough because of this policy or a lack of provision. That target was met, and nobody slept rough.
Of course, I pay tribute to all the local authorities. Some of them did extraordinary stuff during the period. I went on holiday myself, but there were other people on holiday still driving around at 10 o’clock at night introducing people to communities. I pay tribute to those from parties of all colours across the United Kingdom. It really was a galvanising of a national effort. If we do that in future, we can meet the strategic challenge on migration.
I thank the Minister for his statement; I know that he cares deeply about this. In the light of the Afghan resettlement update—I know this falls slightly without his remit—to what extent are the Government putting pressure on the Afghan regime about girls and women’s education, with it being two years since the ban? He mentioned that there is the opportunity locally for Afghans to learn English, and we know how important that is for integration. What estimation does he make of that funding so far in their integration?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. There is funding available to do English courses, and every Afghan who has come over has had access to those courses. We are getting to the point, with Afghans having been in the United Kingdom for two years, where they should be speaking English, and we have made a real effort to ensure that happens.
On Afghan politics, I have worked out that the critical thing when working cross-departmentally, whether on veterans or this issue, is that we have to respect the lane we are in. That is clearly an issue for the Foreign Office, which I am sure will have heard my hon. Friend’s question. He can approach it for more detail.
I thank the Minister very much for his update and for the work that has been done; it quite clearly sounds good. I have a constituent who worked alongside an Afghani, and that outstanding case for resettlement has been turned down. I will not name the person in the Chamber, because I would not want to compromise him in any way, but I cannot for the life of me understand how the scheme has been applied to that gentleman, who is currently in danger, having fled the Taliban. He worked alongside the British Army. My constituent told me all about his duties and what he did, and I am quite clear about it in my mind. This gentleman, alongside his wife and four children, is living in Afghanistan and in danger from the Taliban and others. He helped the UK forces—our forces—when we beckoned and asked for that help. Surely the operation of the scheme must allow for compassion and common sense. May I seek the Minister’s help—I mean that honestly—for that honourable gentleman who we cannot let down?
I ask the hon. Member to write to me about that individual today. I am more than happy to sit down and explain the process to him, look at that case and see whether it has gone right or wrong. We know that there are people in Afghanistan who deserve to be here and who we want to be here—the previous Defence Secretary, my right hon. Friend Mr Wallace, mentioned it a number of times. The Government are aware of that, and he will know my personal commitment to that.
I pay tribute to Hounslow Council, my local council, the Feltham convening partnership and others who have played such an important role in supporting Afghan refugees. When the Minister came to the House in March and announced that Afghans would be evicted from UK hotels, about half the 8,000 Afghans in hotel accommodation were children. Will he update the House on how many of those children are now settled in permanent housing as well as on the ongoing strategy for the continuity of their education, including the resources needed for that, such as for trauma and other support?
The support going forward is extensive, as I alluded to earlier. There will be £9,000 per family, with specific reintegration funding of £20,500 per person to make sure that happens. We had that deadline by
Let me start by putting on record my thanks to the Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick, who, after 18 months of begging by me and my team, was finally persuaded to help me bring five British children and their Afghan mother to safety in the UK in June. That was after the father, who had served the previous Afghan Government and worked with NATO, was brutally assassinated by the Taliban. His much younger sister has been left behind. She is an aunt to the children but grew up like their sibling because she is much younger. She is alone with no male relatives, in hiding and in fear of her life because she is a target. Given the Minister’s repeated statements about honouring commitments to those left behind, and given this woman has a UK sponsor, a job offer and a home to go to—no hotel—will he meet me to discuss her case so that we can bring her to safety, too?
If the hon. Lady sends me the details, I am more than happy to look at them. I recognise that such cases are out there. We were dealing with an individual over the summer who was known to us. We were trying to help him, but he was captured, tortured by the Taliban and killed in the middle of August. I am well aware of these issues. We will do everything we possibly can to make sure that we act in a timely manner. If she writes to me about that case, I will look into it.
On Friday I had the privilege of visiting the Refugee and Migrant Centre in Birmingham. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to its great work in housing Afghan evacuees? The issue now is that rents have gone up quite significantly, and the centre is finding it difficult to house people and give them some sort of normality in the community. Will he look at this issue urgently?
The pressures on housing across the United Kingdom are well-known. That is why we designed a clever scheme to increase the local housing allowance and combine it with the local authority housing fund, and at the same time blend that with a service family accommodation provision to make sure that we could deal with the increases. As I said, this is not a fire and forget issue. This nation has an enduring commitment to those families. We wanted to get them into settled accommodation, because that is their best opportunity to get a job. They have a right to work and to build a life in the UK. These are talented people. I pay tribute to those in Birmingham and across the country for leaning into this task, and I am grateful for their efforts.
I commend the Government on the way in which they set up the Ukraine family scheme within a week of the Russian invasion. But the parallel family reunion mechanism for Afghans resettled or called forward for evacuation under pathway 1 of ACRS is still not implemented. I have more than 450 Afghan families in my constituency who are desperate to be reunited with families. Two years on, those families still have no way of bringing their loved ones to safety.
I believe the Minister may know of the case that I have spoken about before in the Chamber, of a constituent who sent me the photograph of his 15-year-old daughter in her coffin. She committed suicide for fear of what the Taliban would do to her, but her four sisters and their mother are still there. Under pathway 1, Afghans here have been given indefinite leave to remain, but that means that they cannot avail themselves of refugee family reunion; anyone applying for that is told that their application has been rejected as invalid. Will the Minister please increase the number of officials dealing with family reunion? It is a matter of honour, but also of huge personal commitment.
I am always looking at what more we can do in this space. It is easy to forget the depth of the carnage in Afghanistan. We had someone in the scheme who was forced to sell one of his children. He emailed us and said, “I am going to have to sell my child tomorrow,” and he did. It is horrific. That is why we all need to lean in and work as hard as we can. What has happened there is extraordinary. We will continue to lean into that and do what we can in these horrific situations.
The Minister said that he looks forward to welcoming more of those who stood up for British values at great personal risk, so I want to draw his attention to precisely one of those. My constituent is a former Chevening scholar who has been in fear of his life since 2021. He has, at last, been provisionally accepted on ACRS pathway 3. On UK Government advice, he travelled to Pakistan with his wife and young family for final checking, but they have been left there since May. Their passports are due to run out in a matter of weeks, and they are petrified that they will be sent back to Afghanistan once they become undocumented. It is simply not right that they have been left there. I have not been successful in raising this issue by email and letter, so will the Minister meet me to try to resolve this urgent case?
I ask the hon. Lady to send me the details of the case directly. As far as I am aware, we have responded to all individual cases. I am well aware of the strategic situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Prime Minister asked me to do a specific job on hotels, which we had to do before we could even think about bringing people over from Afghanistan. We have now done that. The Government recognise their commitments, and we will have more to say on that in due course.
My constituent’s brother trained and fought alongside UK forces. He escaped murder by the Taliban by fleeing across the border, injured and without papers. Can the Minister confirm how many Afghans have been relocated from third countries under pathways 2 and 3 of the resettlement scheme, and explain why his Government still require those allies to seek new documentation from the men trying to kill them, or to arrive on small boats?
Those schemes lie with the Home Office and the immigration system. I am sure that his question will have been heard. It is clear that challenges remain in this space. As was alluded to in the previous question, the consequences of getting it wrong that we are dealing with are particularly horrific. We recognise our commitments and will work continue to work hard to fulfil them.