Longer stays in hotels can harm mental health of Afghan evacuees, charity warns

The length of time Afghan evacuees have to spend in hotels should be as short as possible to avoid a detrimental impact on their mental health, a charity worker has said.

People arriving from Afghanistan initially have to stay in quarantine hotels due to Covid-19 rules and will then move into other hotels around the country before securing more permanent accommodation with the help of local authorities.

But how long families will have to stay in hotels is currently unknown and will depend on a number of factors.

Jon Featonby, refugee and asylum policy manager at British Red Cross, told the PA news agency: “Eventually what will happen is that those families will go into housing around the country, which will then be their more permanent homes and where they’re really able to become part of that local community.

“What we don’t know yet is exactly how long it might take for some of that accommodation to be sourced.

“Some of it will depend on the make-up of particular families, the size of families, if there are any disabilities within those families, accommodation will need to be suitable for that as well.

“So, some of that can just logistically take a little bit of time to get in place.”

Mr Featonby said the charity has previously seen people going through the UK asylum system accommodated in hotels for “several months”, adding they have seen the “detrimental impact” that scenario can have on people.

“It’s why while people are in those hotels it’s really important that support is in place to give families, particularly children, activities and things that they can do, opportunities to get out of the hotel and start to do things in the local area as well.

“But then, yeah, absolutely, really important that that stay in hotels, which we accept is necessary when people have been moved, when people have been evacuated from a country so quickly, but that that period of time that people are now in hotels to be as short as possible.”

Mr Featonby said that at various points over the last year and a half there have been up to 10,000 people at any one time waiting for asylum decisions and being accommodated in hotels.

“That’s fluctuated quite a bit, but certainly we’ve seen that where people are in those hotels for longer periods of time, and particularly when they’re in the asylum system and they don’t get any financial support either, just the longer they’re in those hotels the higher the likelihood that that is having a detrimental impact on people’s mental health,” he said.

Asked if it is possible that families will spend months in hotels, Mr Featonby said: “We would hope not.

“We certainly think that people are better off when they’re able to get into that longer-term accommodation.”

He added: “At the moment we don’t know how long that’s going to be so it’s really important that for as long as people are in hotels they’re receiving support that they need, whether that’s with those essential items or getting children into local schools where they are.

“We would certainly hope that as quickly as possible people can move on to that longer-term accommodation, and a lot of that will rely on local authorities being able to work with their local communities, their local landlords, to be able to identify that accommodation.”

Mr Featonby said the more local authorities and local areas are welcoming the families then the quicker the process will be.

Earlier this month, Ashford Borough Council appealed to private sector landlords to come forward with accommodation and on Tuesday confirmed “a number” of private landlords have done so, with more anticipated in the coming days and weeks.

Mr Featonby said he would encourage landlords who have vacant properties that might be suitable to speak to their local authorities.