Shelter to challenge Home Office plan to uproot Afghan refugees

<span>Photograph: Andy Hall/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Andy Hall/The Guardian

Home Office plans to uproot Afghan refugees from a London hotel and move them hundreds of miles from their children’s schools could result in a court battle, a lawyer has warned.

About 40 families with 150 children have been told by the government that they must move from Kensington to a hotel in Yorkshire despite no guarantee of school places or jobs.

But when Home Office officials attempted to arrange the moves on Tuesday, they were met by a solicitor who told them that any attempt to remove them could be challenged.

Jo Underwood, head of strategic litigation at Shelter, said: “The Home Office will know that we are looking at legal action if we cannot solve this out of court.”

The families were brought to the UK in August 2021 after the collapse of Kabul because they had worked closely with the British authorities. Under Operation Warm Welcome, they were promised help in establishing a new life including homes and schools.

Some of the refugees, who include a former Afghan general and former British army interpreters, say they will refuse to go because their children, already traumatised by war and displacement, will suffer again by being forced to drop out of their schools.

It comes amid deepening concerns that the home secretary, Suella Braverman, has failed to uphold promises made by Boris Johnson to support Afghans who worked and fought alongside the UK in Afghanistan.

The first families were supposed to be moved out on Tuesday, but that plan was shelved on Monday after a threat of protests from the residents.

Since the Guardian first reported on the plight of the refugees on Thursday, the refugees have held a protest outside Downing Street. The Home Office has managed to find homes for at least one family.

It is understood that the Home Office has told some residents that they will still be moved to Wetherby, despite the threat of protest at the hotel and the threat of legal action. One family is expected to be moved out on Wednesday.

Some of the refugees say they have been attempting to find private accommodation for months but lose out on any properties they find because the Home Office does not complete the necessary paperwork in time.

A Chevening academic has warned that he will be forced to give up a doctorate, a scholarship and teaching roles if he and his young family are moved to Wetherby.

Another group of families evacuated from Afghanistan in 2021 are already challenging the Home Office for mismanaging Operation Warm Welcome, the scheme to set up new lives in the UK. In October, the families were moved to an airport hotel in a northern city after spending almost a year living in London, the charity has said.

In the autumn, Home Office staff told the Afghan refugees that they may have to move out of their hotel at some point. That decision was not confirmed in writing until last month.

Asked to respond, a Home Office spokesperson repeated the same statement released on three previous occasions.

“While hotels do not provide a long-term solution, they do offer safe, secure and clean accommodation. We will continue to bring down the number of people in bridging hotels, moving people into more sustainable accommodation as quickly as possible.

“Occasionally families may be moved from a hotel scheduled for closure to another hotel. In these instances, families are given appropriate notice of a move and are supported by their local authority every step of the way.”