17 Jan Operation “Warm Welcome” can ignore children’s welfare – the Home Office argues.
R (oao Z & Ors) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Southwark LBC (Interested Party)
Four families who were ‘called forward’ by the UK for evacuation from Afghanistan last year are bringing a judicial review against the Home Office for their mismanagement of a scheme set up to assist integration of the Afghans in UK society. A random change of temporary accommodation cost the group job offers, training opportunities and school places.
Over 12 months after fleeing Afghanistan, the families remain living in hotel accommodation without access to kitchens or proper living space whilst they wait for offers of permanent accommodation promised by the government scheme. The amount of money spent on the hotels was enough to have paid for privately rented flats for each of the families.
In August the families were told they were moving from a hotel in London to hotels in Manchester airport, and Manchester City Centre. This meant the children, settled in school, doing exams, learning English, were suddenly moved; the adults who had enrolled in training had to leave it; the adults with jobs or job offers had to leave their work; the parents who had engaged with community activities and started to settle again had to uproot their families. The families are now living in Manchester, again in temporary hotel accommodation, with some of the children still waiting to be accepted into school. To date none of the adults have been able to find employment.
The families are challenging this decision – made as part of a scheme heralded as a scheme to assist the families called “Operation Warm Welcome”.
The central issue in the challenge is that the families were moved to other accommodation in another area of the UK, and that this accommodation was still temporary meaning that the families could again find work, training and school places, and again be moved with little notice to another area – meaning once again the children would be uprooted, jobs and training left, and any efforts at integration wasted. Even in the two months since the families moved to Manchester one family has already been told they are to be moved again.
The Home Secretary has argued in legal documents that she does not owe any duty to promote or safeguard the welfare of the affected children. She has also argued that the families can leave the resettlement scheme and seek accommodation elsewhere – which is unrealistic given the current housing shortage in the UK, particularly affecting people on benefits.
There are presently 9,667 people under the schemes living in temporary hotel accommodation.
- There is a Court order prohibiting publication of any information liable to identify the Claimants in the judicial review proceedings or their family members in the UK or overseas. A copy of the order is available on request.
- The Claimants in the legal proceedings were evacuated during UK military ‘Operation Pitting’ during the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August 2021. During the operation, around 15,000 people were airlifted from the Afghan capital.
- The government described people whom it had ‘called forward’ for evacuation as ‘the Afghans who stood side by side with us in conflict, their families and those at highest risk’. The government committed to providing resettlement support with then prime minister Boris Johnson stating ‘We will never forget the brave sacrifice made by Afghans who chose to work with us, at great risk to themselves. We owe them, and their families, a huge debt.’
- The government has committed to a package of integration support which, in principle, includes £20,050 per person of support to local authorities over a three year period. The relevant funding instruction expressly provides that this money can be spent on accommodation and additional support is available to help larger families who may be impacted by the benefit cap or low rates of ‘local housing allowance’.
- A separate funding instruction applies to local authorities that are only providing ‘wraparound’ support to people in the scheme who are living in temporary bridging hotel accommodation. This support equates to £28 per person per day.
- The ongoing cost of providing temporary hotel accommodation to people in temporary bridging hotel accommodation has been estimated by the Government to be around £1 million per day.
- Public law project has obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act that set out a separate ‘Choose your own accommodation pathway’. This ‘pathway’ intended to enable beneficiaries of the Afghan Settlement Schemes to identify their own accommodation in the private rented sector with Home Office and Local Authority approval. The documents are available on request, and we intend to publish them on our website shortly.
- The government has committed to publishing quarterly ‘operational data’ on the Afghan Resettlement Programme. The latest information was published 25 August 2022.