MPs and charities have condemned the Home Office for “shunting” young Afghan refugees around the UK “like cattle”, as new evidence emerges of children being moved out of London hotels weeks before their GCSEs.
The Observer has uncovered a growing number of cases of Afghan families being compulsorily relocated out of London by the Home Office despite being about to start their exams on 15 May. Andy Slaughter MP, the shadow solicitor general for England and Wales, has battled unsuccessfully to prevent the removal of three young Afghan people living in bridging hotels in his constituency, Hammersmith in west London.
Despite assurances they would review her case, the government moved 18-year-old refugee Yalda Nadiri and her family against their will to a hotel in Leeds a month ago. Nadiri, who has learned English in the past 18 months and wants to become a doctor, has been unable to find a new school place and will now be unable to sit her exams.
Two Afghan brothers, Gurpreet and Karanjeet Bindra, are having to commute for up to four hours every day from Chingford in Essex to continue GCSE revision lessons at their school, William Morris sixth form in Hammersmith. Their family fled Afghanistan when the Taliban seized control, made their way to Iran partly on foot, and are seeking asylum in the UK.
Slaughter said: “Everything about this is wrong. Traumatised young people who are succeeding despite all the odds against them are having their education sabotaged.”
He added that the Home Office had recently secured new hotel accommodation near William Morris, where all three were pupils, and the school is desperate to have them back, “but the Home Office won’t budge”.
Last week, the Observer revealed that two Afghan girls at Fulham Cross girls’ school may miss their GCSE exams because the Home Office is moving their families out of London in two weeks’ time. Schools fighting to keep their Afghan students say there is not enough time to find a new school and settle in before exams start, and it is unlikely a new school will be studying the same syllabuses and books.
Matthew Gibney, professor of politics and forced migration at the University of Oxford, said helping young refugees to gain qualifications and careers was the best way to integrate them into society.
“To treat them like cattle and shunt them around the country at short notice is short-term thinking with long-term costs for the individual refugees and society as a whole.”
Speaking from her family’s new hotel in Leeds, Nadiri said: “In London, I was very happy and working hard for my exams. Now I have been here for a month and I have no school. Every day and every week feels the same.”
She was due to sit exams in English, maths, biology, chemistry and physics in Hammersmith, but the school she applied to in Leeds has said it cannot accept her this year. “It is my childhood dream to be a doctor and I want to finish my education,” said Nadiri.
Matt Jenkins, assistant principal at William Morris, her former school, said: “These young people aren’t being assimilated, they are being dumped. I can’t believe we live in a country where this has become the norm.”
He said that, despite living for many months in cramped hotel bedrooms with their families, all three Afghan pupils had worked hard for their exams alongside learning English.
Commuting for up to four hours a day was proving “exhausting” for the two boys, he said, and he worried about how their families would find the £250 a month for travel.
Mark Davies, head of campaigns at the Refugee Council, said: “These families want to rebuild their lives and recover from the trauma they have experienced, but they are unable to do so because they are cut off from society and missing out on vital education.”
He said the charity was “deeply worried” about the many Afghans who were being “shunted from hotel to hotel”.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We are proud this country has provided homes for more than 7,500 Afghan evacuees, but there is a shortage of local authority housing for all in London, and hotels do not provide a long-term solution.”
The spokesperson added that school places were the responsibility of the local authority to which refugees are moved.