More than 150,000 people have expressed interest in taking in Ukrainian refugees – but fewer than 500 have offered to house Afghans seven months on from the fall of Kabul.
Experts say it highlights the impact of the government “dehumanising refugees who are brown, Black, or Muslim”, as 11,500 Afghan refugees are believed to be stuck in hotels waiting for more secure accommodation.
Government data obtained by The Big Issue shows 427 individuals — at most — had offered Afghan refugees a place to stay between last August and February 22. Almost 350 organisations had offered help in the same period.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Robina Qureshi, chief executive of Positive Action in Housing, which runs the community hosting network Room For Refugees. “The hostile environment rhetoric has succeeded in dehumanising refugees who are brown, Black, or Muslim, all filtered down courtesy of successive home secretaries who have promoted hate rhetoric against refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen, helped by sections of the media.”
A government spokesperson said it had provided homes to more than 4,000 refugees and thanked the members of the public who had applied to the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
“We have seen the immense generosity of the British public through the incredible response to our Homes for Ukraine scheme,” the spokesperson said. “Though not everyone who expressed an interest will ultimately be able to house someone, we are grateful to everyone who has expressed an interest in providing support those fleeing persecution.
“We’re proud to have provided homes for more than 4,000 Afghan evacuees so far and continue to explore options to find them more permanent accommodation.”
The scheme to support Afghan refugees launched on August 27 and by November 29, 344 offers were made by “private individuals” — though the number of properties could be higher if the applicant owned more than one.
From December 1 the data was recorded differently, to show the number of properties offered rather than the number of people. Some 83 properties were offered between the change and February 22. If some individuals had offered more than one property the actual number of people to come forward would be lower.
Organisations also made 288 offers between August and the end of November, and 60 properties were offered between December and February 22.
With the political focus now on the Ukrainian humanitarian crisis and the Homes for Ukraine scheme, reports suggest there are around 11,500 Afghans still stuck in hotels, waiting to build new lives in the UK.
In the weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, experts have highlighted how the compassion shown towards Ukrainians differs from the support shown for victims of conflicts outside of Europe. And by not processing Ukrainians coming to the UK as refugees, it could place many in further danger.
“While goodwill is there from people, in this crisis, the government is still intent on keeping refugees out,” Qureshi told The Big Issue. “Ukrainian refugees are being diverted down a visa route instead of via the refugee convention, which means only a trickle of people will get into the country via the community sponsorship route – the rest who are not tech savvy, don’t have money, and don’t speak or write English will have a hard time navigating the complex visa process, and don’t stand a chance.”
Qureshi added: “The public are being duped into thinking they are making a difference, the government is giving the illusion of helping, and refugees in Ukraine are dying because they can’t see a safe route out – which means human smugglers have a potential trade. Its depressing.”
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said the Homes for Ukraine Scheme and Afghan Resettlement Scheme work differently.
A spokesperson told The Big Issue: “People are referred to the Afghan Resettlement Scheme which is different to people registering interest for the Ukraine sponsorship scheme.”
Councils across the UK have stepped up and the government’s £5m Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme has seen a total of 4,000 people offered homes.
Enver Solomon, chief executive at the Refugee Council, said it was “important not to forget the plight of Afghans”.
He said: “Too many Afghan families including many children have been left for too long living in limbo in basic hotel accommodation, unable to get on with rebuilding their lives.
“They must not be forgotten and the government should do all it can to accelerate moving them into their own homes as quickly as possible as well as ensuring they can access all the support they need to overcome the trauma they have been through.”
Satbir Singh, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, pointed out that while the government is at pains to highlight its support for refugees, it is currently pushing through its Nationality & Borders Bill, which would criminalise Ukrainians and others who arrive in the UK without prior authorisation.
He told The Big Issue: “The British public offered more support to Ukrainian refugees in 24 hours than that the Home Office have managed for all refugees in the last decade.
“While the Homes for Ukraine scheme will provide a much-needed lifeline to many Ukrainian’s fleeing war, we mustn’t ignore this government’s hugely discriminatory approach to this crisis in comparison to others, past and present.
“As we celebrate the generosity of the British public, the government continues to push its anti-refugee bill through parliament.
“As ordinary people offer up their homes, the Home Office is working hard to criminalise and turn away Ukrainians and other refugees fleeing war and persecution. It’s yet another sign of how rotten our government’s asylum system is – and how out of touch the Home Office is with public opinion.”