Homes for Afghans

  • Initiative
  • 29 March 2022

The start of a new era of welcoming in Britain

A joint paper from More in Common and British Future

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has inflicted horrors and atrocities on people in Europe, that many thought were consigned to the history books of the last century. Right across the country, Britons have been united in their disgust at the terror the Ukrainian people are enduring – and out of that has come something else, a determination that Britain has a responsibility to step up to play its part in both helping the Ukrainian people and punishing the Putin regime. Support for sanctions against Russia, the supply of arms to Ukraine, and pressure on the Government to do more to help refugees have been steadfast.

But Britons don’t just see helping Ukrainians as the Government’s responsibility, they want to do their bit too. There has been no better demonstration of that than the surge of kind offers to participate in the Homes for Ukraine programme. Already well over a hundred thousand families have stepped forward to share their homes and offer sanctuary to those fleeing Ukraine. That level of generosity and previously untapped commitment towards refugees represents an enormous opportunity – not just in terms of how we play our part in helping Ukraine, but also in reshaping our approach to welcoming refugees in the future.

In the short term, the most pressing priority will be to match British hosts with Ukrainians. For some that will be easy – especially for those with existing links to the country and its people. For others the process will take longer, as diaspora organisations work to create new connections, and in the second phase of the scheme as businesses and civil society organisations create opportunities for larger groups to come to the UK. Many of those who have offered their home will find a match. But some will not, as it is likely that ultimately the offers of help pledged by Britons will surpass the number of Ukrainians who can, or who want to, seek refuge in the UK – after all many will want to stay closer to their home in central and Eastern European countries.

If those who are not needed immediately to host Ukrainians see their offer go to waste – it would represent a huge missed opportunity. That is not least because support for sponsorship goes beyond those who feel able to play an active or direct part – in fact our polling finds that across the UK support for taking in refugees increases by 12 points when framed through the lens of community sponsorship. That is why this is the right moment to build on this extraordinary wave of goodwill from the public and to enable more of those who want to support refugees to do so.

The simplest and most common-sense way of doing that would be to extend this welcoming spirit to other groups – and most urgently to those people struggling in the Afghan Warm Welcome Scheme. Seven months after the fall of Kabul, it is truly damning that 10,000 Afghan refugees remain stuck in hotels, unable to put down new roots, restart their lives or integrate into British communities. For those with families, it has meant more than half a year of raising their children in hotel rooms designed for short stays and weekend breaks. What’s more, the cost of paying for these hotels is a staggering £1.2 million a day – or put another way more than five times the average cost of renting housing for these refugees. 

The success of the Homes for Ukraine scheme gives us an opportunity to get this scheme back on track. That means offering those who have not been matched with a Ukrainian refugee the opportunity to take part in a wider programme that will allow them to help get Afghan families out of hotels and into communities. Not all those who signed up to help Ukrainians will want to, but undoubtedly there are many who will. And whilst a direct replica of the Ukrainian scheme will not be appropriate for Afghan families – who need more than just to be hosted in a spare room – public support in finding the right housing and getting established in communities across the UK is exactly what they need.

This short paper sets out options for how we can make the most of the British public’s offer of help, time and support for refugees with the response it deserves – and gives as many people as possible the opportunity to play their part. None of that is to suggest that the Government should feel able to abdicate their responsibility to urgently deliver on its commitments to those who risked their lives working with us in Afghanistan. Instead, we believe the Government has an opportunity to seize this moment to shift Britain’s approach to refugees and build solid and sustained foundations for a new era of welcoming refugees in Britain. 

Homes for Afghans – Eight Recommendations:

  1. Invite those who have volunteered to host a Ukrainian refugee but not matched to join a new Homes for Afghans sponsorship programme: The scheme should be introduced by summer 2022 and in the first instance should work with existing Community Sponsorship groups who have capacity to train up new volunteers. Over time, a new Sponsor training scheme should be rolled out, providing those who have volunteered to house Ukrainians with the training and support to become accredited sponsors for Afghans within 3 months, rather than the current 12 months.
  2. Create a New Home for Afghans Taskforce chaired by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up: The taskforce should be focused on developing workable solutions that can be rapidly deployed to house Afghans – including redirecting funding currently being spent on inappropriate short-term options to community sponsorship groups and institutions. The taskforce should have a mandate to hold officials to account in ensuring that Afghan refugees currently stuck in hotel accommodation are properly housed within 100 days.
  3. As the second phase of Homes for Ukraine (enabling institutional sponsorship) goes live, a parallel scheme for supporting Afghans should be introduced: institutional sponsors (such as faith institutions, universities, and businesses) should be encouraged to participate in both schemes.  In particular, the taskforce should work with refugee groups, employers, faith groups, military charities, children’s charities, local councils and Afghan communities and individuals themselves to encourage support.
  4. The Scottish and Welsh governments should be invited to extend their ‘Super Sponsor’ role in Homes for Ukraine into the new Homes for Afghans scheme.
  5. Local councils should be helped to adapt the super-sponsor model pioneered in Scotland and Wales, so that groups of 5-10 Afghan families can be taken in groups by city-regions and local authorities. This would allow local authorities to settle groups of families together with the benefit of wider community supporthelping to address concerns about accepting offers of accommodation in a town that they have not heard of. Involving former Afghan interpreters (who resettled in Britain 5 or 6 years ago) as community liaison workers would be another useful route to providing information and reassurance to the newly resettled about specific local areas.
  6. Turn the welcoming wave of 2022 into a sustained social norm. The Government should establish a multi-million-pound Welcoming Britain Fund which can resource and build capacity in civil society to underpin welcoming for years to come. The fund would help support and strengthen charities that provide training and assistance as well as ensuring safeguarding standards are met. This new welcoming agenda should provide an opportunity for those with a long track record of working with refugees and communities to support others.
  7. Continue regular engagement with all Homes for Ukraine volunteers: Everyone who has registered interest in the Homes for Ukraine initiative need to be engaged with regularly sharing advice, information and options to stay involved – that should include ways to: be part of local welcoming efforts working with Ukrainians and other group; join existing local Community Sponsorship groups or to receive training and support to create their own; be connected to charities organising refugee hosting; help co-design and shape new welcoming networks and offers more broadly.
  8. Make community support an essential feature of all of those given protection in the UK: Community support – whether it be with health and well-being, language, employability or community contact – are not only important steps to helping people rebuild their lives (rather than depending on the resettlement route or a particular group) but will also lead to better integration within British communities. Work needs to be done to ensure that community support becomes the norm for all those given protection in the UK, through sponsorship or Government managed routes, over the long term. 

Explore the paper and recommendations for the new Homes for Afghans scheme 

Read our letter to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up asking him to establish a cross-government taskforce on Homes for Afghans

“This is the time to use the generosity of spirit being shown by so many people to Ukrainian refugees to set up a long-term scheme to allow for planned resettlement of refugees. This will be more humane, more efficient and cheaper for the taxpayer in the long run.”

Damien Green MP, former First Secretary of State

“The outpouring of solidarity with Ukrainians since the beginning of the Russian invasion has been wonderful to see. It seems common sense to me to think about how we can utilise this moment to get the ball rolling again on the relocation of Afghan families. It is worrying that thousands of Afghan refugees are still stuck in temporary hotel accommodation. This is costing them precious time to start rebuilding their lives in the UK and settle into the community”.

Olivia Blake, Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam

"I fully support the proposed Homes for Afghans Plan. I have spoken to many Afghan refugees evacuated since Aug 2021 most of whom are still in the hotels in different cities of the UK. Afghan refugees are going through trauma and anxiety. There has been a big change in their lives, housing a larger group of Afghan refugees in close proximity to each other will help them to quickly adjust and integrate into the UK society, this will also help in reducing the anxieties they have and feel more protected. In the long run, it is very helpful for their mental health as Afghans are very good at keeping each other company and supporting each other when a member of the community needs help and support."

Rafi Hottak, former British Forces Interpreter

“I am supporting this initiative because it allows us to build on the spirit of incredible generosity demonstrated by the British public towards displaced Ukrainians and help Afghans to whom Western Governments continue to owe a duty of care. Both crises are about standing up for freedom and respect for human rights, and speak volumes about the role of Global Britain as a beacon for both sets of values. The swelling of support for Ukraine allows us to build a scheme which helps with residual gaps in the Operation Warm Welcome for Afghans. Let us seize this opportunity."

Zehra Zaidi, Co-Founder, Action for Afghanistan