Afghanistan evacuation: two years on
In the two years since evacuations from Afghanistan began, the British Red Cross has supported thousands of people on arrival in the UK. But there is still much more to be done.
Last updated 15 August 2023
Two years ago, the first evacuated Afghan families began to arrive in the UK. British Red Cross volunteers and staff were at airports across the country waiting to greet people as they stepped off the plane.
Many had harrowing stories to tell. Others were quiet, thinking of loved ones left behind.
While our staff and volunteers provided emotional and practical support, what the families needed was a clear path forward, and a safe and secure home to be able to rebuild their lives in the UK.
This is worrying. We know from our work supporting those in the asylum system the negative impact long stays in temporary accommodation can have.
What has happened to Afghan arrivals two years on?
For some people we support, the emotional toll of the last two years has been enormous.
The pain of being forced to leave home, the traumatic nature of evacuation, and the prolonged hotel stay has caused profound mental health issues. Many experience anxiety and loneliness.
But people are most worried about where they will live. While there are plans to move people out of hotels by the end of the summer, many families are struggling to find information on how to secure long-term housing.
Families are worried they will be made homeless if they can't find somewhere to live by the August deadline.
And many are worried about the impact on their children, who may have to move schools if they are relocated to a different area. So are we.
Eleanor Payton, British Red Cross policy lead, says:
"We are really concerned about the pace of [rehousing] now. If a longer term solution hasn't been found we wouldn't want anyone to be evicted from hotels.
"People will be moved on from the communities they're in, with children moved out of schools or adults moved away from jobs," she continues.
A better integration scheme, with housing at its core, is vital.
The British Red Cross is urging the government to extend the end-of-summer deadline, before moving Afghan people. Evictions must be avoided at all cost.
This would allow more time for the government to work with overburdened local authorities to help Afghan people access housing and rental properties.
Afghan people are also extremely concerned about the safety of their family back in Afghanistan, in third countries or elsewhere in the UK. Some families are now looking to start the complex process of bringing family members who were left behind to the UK.
We'd like to see more clarity here too, and we're urging the UK government to clarify how these families can be reunited and be safe together.
Supporting people arriving from Afghanistan
The British Red Cross will continue to support people evacuated from Afghanistan every step of the way. Since resettlement began in 2021, we have provided 19,000 instances of crisis response to Afghan arrivals.
These have included helping people access medical care, offering emotional support including welfare drop-ins at specific times, and in some cases financial assistance.
Our refugee support teams all over the UK have also been supporting families with integration and to try and reduce isolation, which is a common experience for those in hotels.
Staff and volunteers have been delivering sessions on women’s health, digital safety and life in the UK, and are often led by Afghans who have been through the asylum system or who themselves arrived under Afghan resettlement schemes.
“At the beginning it was really hard for me because I am an Afghan lady,” says Abeda, a refugee services caseworker in Leicester. “To see them [like that] was a bit emotional. I used my language skills – Dari and Pashtu – to find out how they are and what exactly they need.”
“I found ladies to be more distressed, depressed and stressed,” says Abeda. “We managed to distribute donations to the refugees and identify essentials for women including sanitary products, as well as make-up and perfume, which they were too shy to request.”
Azar and her family arrived in the UK via Switzerland after being evacuated from Afghanistan in August 2021.
They stayed in a bridging hotel for two months, where they were supported through the British Red Cross’s information sessions.
“I learned a lot about work opportunities, social care, child benefit,” says Azar. “The whole spectrum was new for me, which was helpful.”
Azar is looking forward to building a life here in the UK, and feels more confident navigating British culture having attended the sessions.
“Where we live now people are very friendly,” she says. “I have found people very open and accepting, especially as somebody who wears the hijab. I feel I have more freedom.”
Helping to reunite families
Meanwhile, our international family tracing teams have been assisting with the difficult task of trying to reconnect people with the family they have been separated from, which is sadly the case for many.
Lots of people who made the harrowing journeys to safety themselves are now trying to secure the safe passage of close family members who are still in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries.
The situation in Afghanistan today
The people of Afghanistan still face multiple severe crises of drought, food shortages, and a flatlining economy.
Severe drought in more than 60 per cent of the country has had a devastating effect on agricultural food production, adding to severe risks of deepening hunger and malnutrition.
With around 24 million people in need of humanitarian support, the Afghan Red Crescent is on the ground across the country providing emergency relief, including food and medical support.
These local teams run the largest non-governmental network of primary healthcare facilities, including mobile units in isolated rural areas.
We were there to support when earthquakes struck in 2023 and 2022 and provide ongoing support including food parcels, household kits, and hygiene kits.
Our Afghanistan Crisis Appeal is still open: if you can, please help us meet people’s basic needs alongside the Afghan Red Crescent. Your money can provide food, basic medical supplies and medicines, shelter, and water.
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