Afghans evacuated to the UK feel like prisoners after being trapped in quarantine conditions longer than necessary, several of them told the Guardian, raising concerns over their human rights and well-being .
Thousands of officials and soldiers who helped NATO forces were expelled from Kabul after the Taliban took power in late August. They had to isolate themselves for 10 days in a hotel upon arrival because Afghanistan is on the “red list” for travel.
However, some said that they had not received any news about the ‘bridging accommodation’ promised to them under the government’s resettlement program, and that they had virtually no opportunity to take to the air. , no news of when they might leave – as their mental health has deteriorated.
Hasib Nooralam, former director of the Attorney General’s Office in Afghanistan, has been stuck in the Park Plaza hotel near Waterloo in London for 20 days. “We’re prisoners inside here, but even prisoners are allowed out for an hour or two a day. In 24 hours, we are allowed to go out for only 15 minutes. There are also a lot of children inside this hotel, people are fed up and crying.
He said no information from the Home Office had been provided and when he asked the hotel if it was allowed to shop or take a walk, he was told it was not. was not allowed. “Nobody knows what’s going on. Maybe they’ll keep us here for a month, maybe two months, who knows?
A second evacuee from Afghanistan trapped in the hotel for 20 days, who requested anonymity, said many were at breaking point: “I can’t explain it. The anxiety is that there is no one to ask what happens next. I asked someone at the Home Office for a phone number, but they didn’t give it to me. The system is broken.
“We can’t even open the windows to get some fresh air… There are children, a lot of people who don’t speak English, they can’t complain. There is no one to hear their voice.
Another who had spent 17 days in a hotel with his pregnant wife and children near Heathrow said he knew other police officers in Afghanistan who had been there longer. “Our mental situation is not good at all,” he said.
An Afghan interpreter who worked for the British Army for several years said the Swindon Hotel where he was being held, his wife and two young children were like being in prison.
Despite the quarantine ending four days ago, he said they had to book with the hotel reception whenever they wanted to walk around, waiting for hours for a security team to escort them to in the parking lot, then only give them 20 minutes – before being driven back to their room and not leaving until the next day.
“No one can tell us how long are we going to stay here or what will happen after,” he said. “There is no phone number we can call to ask the authorities and when you send a message to the Arap email address [the Afghan relocations and assistance policy] they won’t respond for weeks.
Dr Andrew Kidd OBE, who ran the UKAid program in Afghanistan for three years and is one of 60 former officials who have worked in the country to lobby the government to do more to help refugees, said said: “It cannot be fair that some of our Afghan colleagues who have served the UK with professionalism and dedication remain detained with their families in quarantine hotels days after the quarantine ends.
“It raises questions about their human rights and affects their mental well-being. This does not sound like the warm welcome that the Minister of the Interior, Priti Patel, promised through her “warm welcome operation”.
Carolyn Webster, a former Conservative parliamentary candidate who is now an independent adviser to Bridgend, organized collections for Afghans stranded in British hotels after the quarantine and tried to raise their plight with the British government.
She said the extra days people are locked up “doesn’t seem like a lot, but they are – especially when they’re not communicating with them.”
“They understand the importance of quarantine – they understand it, they are happy to do it. But it’s the lack of communication. If they no longer isolate themselves, let them out. Every family I am involved with wants to be properly integrated into Great Britain, to experience our cultures so that they can participate in our culture. But we are not giving them that opportunity.
Last week, Afghans staying in the quarantine hotels were told they would be allowed to stay there for free “until further accommodation is arranged for you with the Interior Ministry.”
“It will be another hotel, as efforts are made to identify permanent accommodation,” said a letter sent to them and seen by the Guardian. “However, if you choose to stay in our quarantine facilities, I must ask you to continue to observe Covid security measures. It is for your safety to prevent the spread of infection. “
The government has been contacted for comment. On Monday, the Home Office announced that local authorities would get £ 20million to support the resettlement of evacuees from Afghanistan, although it admitted that only around 100 councils had offered to house them. “We urge all councils across the country to contribute to this national effort,” the ministry said.