Protecting our communities: an update on our work with Afghan refugees

In this blog, our Senior Case worker, Bethan Evans shares about the support Migrants Organise has provided to Afghan people in the UK,  and exposes the hardship faced by those still stuck in the asylum system.

In this blog, our Senior Case worker, Bethan Evans shares about the support Migrants Organise has provided to Afghan people in the UK,  and exposes the hardship faced by those still stuck in the asylum system. 

“ In August 2021 after the Taliban takeover of Kabul- and in response to public pressure – the UK government responded with two forms of resettlement programmes: first the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) designed to relocate people who had been employed by the UK government. Second, The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), a  longer term programme designed to resettle 20,000 people over five years.

Migrants Organise provided support to people who had been resettled to West London – where a lot of our work is based. These people arrived on the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP)  scheme and were placed in “Afghan Bridging Hotels”. 

Here we supported people with some of the information and practical steps needed. This included advising on welfare support and helping them understand their rights and access to services. We also connect our members with  volunteer buddies,  as well as offering activities such as conversational English classes, art classes, women’s groups and a walking group.

A conversational English class at Migrants Organise. Photo taken in 2019 of our members and volunteer at a group class.

It’s really important that new arrivals receive the right amount of support, and feel like they are building connections with their community.  There is no doubt that being resettled to a new country in such sudden and shocking circumstances causes distress and trauma.  People have lost so much- their home, family and a sense of belonging. There is a huge question mark over the future.  

Many people arriving on the government’s evacuation scheme arrived on a six month visa. There was very little information about what status and rights  they would be entitled to once that six months were completed. This lack of information was distressing for our members and frustrating for caseworkers.

Living in a hotel for long periods of time has been very challenging for our members. It was supposed to be a short term plan, yet there was little information about where we could apply for longer term housing. 

Consequently, despite having access to welfare support and the right to work, people felt that they had  little power over their lives. There is more information now- but many are still unclear if they will be able to reunite with their families through family reunification. These significant question marks can exacerbate a sense of loss and trauma. 

Stuck in the asylum system 

One of the most shocking contradictions in the government’s response to this crisis is its handling of people in the asylum system. It was estimated that 3000 Afghans were  in the asylum system waiting for a decision when the Taliban took over. 

Whilst the government dubbed the formal resettlement routes as “Operation Warm Welcome“, this was not the reality for asylum seekers already in the UK- with the Nationality and Borders Bill promising to further punish and criminalise people arriving in the UK spontaneously . 

Our member, A and her four children, have been here for several years but despite having a clear case they still haven’t been granted refugee status. They’re unable to work, access welfare support and ultimately unable to live in dignity. They live in one room with a family friend. The children are really suffering from the lack of space. We’ve requested asylum support accommodation but nothing has been identified and we have needed to refer the case to a solicitor for a judicial review challenge. It’s frustrating how much of our time and effort is spent on a case that should be so straight forward. 

A’s case is not the only one. Another member, S, arrived only last October and is still waiting for her asylum interview, which is causing her great anxiety. She left her husband back home and arrived with her children. She’s since given birth to another child yet the accommodation she is living in is causing her problems. They’re not able to open the window and the room overheats and her children are getting rashes. 

People who are within the asylum system are also battling complex health conditions like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The inability to make plans, to look to the future or simply be able to afford to look after themselves – buy their own clothes and food – understandably leads to a deterioration in their health. 

O, arrived here as a 15 year old child and now seven years later, almost one year after the Taliban took over,  he remains in limbo. During the pandemic he was moved to an “asylum hotel”, away from the community he’d built in West London. Not only is he waiting for an answer in his claim for refugee status, but the poor conditions  in the hotels have isolated him. 

For another member, there is a more optimistic future ahead as he has finally been granted refugee status. But a bureaucratic delay has meant that he is still living in an “asylum hotel” accommodation- it feels like he is stuck there.

Last year we wrote to Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) with our concerns about “asylum hotels”, our report includes testimony from our members about the harsh realities of living for months on end in this type of accommodation. 

We demand justice 

Claiming asylum should be a process to rebuild one’s life, but right now it feels more like a form of punishment. Many of our members compare it to the oppression and violence that they once fled. Even if refugee status is granted it takes time to recover from the brutality of the asylum system. Given the situation back in Afghanistan and what our members have experienced, it is cruel and unnecessary to treat people like this.

The government has approved the Nationality and Borders Bill- a plan to criminalise and punish refugees who are claiming asylum. Now, we have to do all we can to protect our communities.”

Bethan Evans is a Senior Caseworker at Migrants Organise


Migrants Organise is a platform for migrants and refugees to organise for dignity and justice. Our front line service, the Community Programme works with around 550 individuals each year to provide welfare advice, legal support as well as person-centred holistic support (buddying, community activities).

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