UK: Afghan women evacuated to limbo

(London) – Uncertainty and overcrowding in temporary accommodation is causing growing tensions for Afghan evacuees in the UK, especially women.

Eight months after the emergency evacuations from Afghanistan, many Afghans evacuated to the UK are still in temporary accommodation, usually hotel rooms. Human Rights Watch interviewed five women who have lived in three temporary accommodations in London since late August 2021. They described increased risk of domestic violence, surveillance, and restrictions on their freedom of movement in temporary accommodations populated entirely by Afghan refugees .

“The Afghan women interviewed were all grateful to have been evacuated,” said Sahar Fetrat, associate women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But they had to deal with an enormous amount of trauma before and during their flight from Afghanistan, and now they face conditions that affect their mental health and prevent them from integrating into the community.”

Human Rights Watch wrote to the Home Secretary, Refugees Secretary, and other relevant UK authorities in April 2022 to raise our concerns and inquire about the government’s plans to address the issues. As of press time, the government has not responded.

The UK evacuated around 18,000 people, including more than 6,000 British nationals, after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August and housed them in temporary accommodation while seeking more permanent accommodation for them . The Guardian reported that around 12,000 people remained in temporary accommodation, with many families living in one room.

The UK Home Office should step up the pace of providing housing and longer-term support services to Afghan refugees, Human Rights Watch said.

“A hotel room is still a hotel room; it’s never home,” one woman said. Another expressed frustration with the slow accommodation process, saying: ‘A hotel in London is great for a short time, not for seven months. We have lost a sense of routine, personal space, home, and the freedom to run our lives independently.

The women told Human Rights Watch that due to the lack of personal space in their temporary accommodations, feelings of distress and pressure from community members being evacuated to the accommodations, as well as assaults and domestic violence at the towards women have increased. “A woman was beaten by her husband in our hotel, when she tried to report it the hotel community stopped her bullying her about the consequences,” one woman said.

Another woman said: “Several times I heard a couple fighting next door. The husband screams and leaves, slamming the door, and the wife cries loudly. She spent seven months in a hotel room and saw nothing but the hotel premises.

Traditional gender roles and a lack of money and social support mean many women say they feel trapped in their bedrooms. “For married women like me, we have to stay in hotel rooms to take care of our children and watch our husbands hang out freely and make friends outside,” said one woman. She said she would like to take a language course but she has no one to take care of her children.

Another woman said, “For most married women, there is no activity, and most husbands don’t let their wives go out; these women are going crazy. In Afghanistan, some of these women would also have had limited freedom of movement but would have had more privacy and their own space.

Evacuees receive a monthly allowance from the UK Home Office of £250 to £280. But the women interviewed said that many men took all the allowances for the family. “Wives are given bank cards, but the husband keeps the PIN codes,” said one woman. “Most of these women are uneducated or unaware of these systems, and they have no control over their own money.”

The women said that Afghans from different parts of the country are herded into temporary accommodation, even though they belong to various ethnic and linguistic groups and multiple religions and have very different views on social norms. The consequence, they said, is often pressure on women to conform to standards they would have resisted even in Afghanistan, at a time when they had hoped to integrate into their new British communities.

Women from less traditional backgrounds face microaggressions and sexist comments from some men. “One day I went for a run in my sportswear,” one woman said. “When I got back to the hotel, a man standing in the hotel lobby looked me over from head to toe and said, ‘I see you fit in too soon, don’t you isn’t it?'”

She said young, single women face even harsher judgments: “The environment is becoming more toxic and intolerable day by day. Once someone directly said that I was a prostitute and that I was promoting prostitution among women. Men tell their wives to avoid talking to women like me. She said it also prevented wives from having female friends who could help them learn more about UK culture and life.

Four of the women interviewed said they were evacuated because they had worked outside the home, in some cases in important jobs. The fifth wife works from home and was evacuated due to her husband’s role in the previous government.

“I’m very grateful to the UK government,” said one of the women. “But the feeling of being constantly watched for every action I do, everywhere I go out and every time I come back, being judged for not wearing a hijab limits me as a person. It’s tiring.

Another woman said: “Although I feel lucky to have been evacuated, I cannot deny how shocking the evacuation process was. We were robbed of our home and the future we had imagined for ourselves, and at the hotel I feel constantly judged for my choice of clothing, not only by the Afghan community but also by the staff of the hotel. She said many Afghans at the hotel treated her with disapproval because she did not fit the traditional expectations of Afghan women. “We were thrown into hotels together with no plans from the authorities to sort out our accommodation in the near future.”

The women interviewed described the severe mental health consequences of their experiences in Afghanistan and the ongoing tensions they face. One said the Home Office had offered some mental health support, but “our people first need to be educated on the importance of counseling and therapy. I see a lack of proper effort and communication from both sides, especially from the officials side.

The Home Office, with the Department of Leveling, Housing and Communities working closely with local authorities, should urgently expedite the transfer of evacuees to permanent accommodation that meets standards for living conditions. housing and space, taking into account the needs and preferences of the whole family, Human Rights Watch mentioned. Managers should ensure that housing is in a location where residents have access to community resources, including parks, playgrounds, children’s centers, health facilities and social services.

As long as families remain in temporary accommodation, the needs and preferences of women should be taken into account, with particular attention to concerns that single women or female-headed households may face. The government should have clear and effective policies for dealing with domestic violence in temporary accommodation, including signage and awareness materials in Afghan languages. Staff in these facilities must be trained to recognize and respond to gender-based violence, must be aware and sensitive to the diversity of residents’ backgrounds, and must treat all residents with respect.

The government should provide regular outreach services to people living in temporary and permanent accommodation by culturally and linguistically competent social workers and connect people to services for people who have experienced domestic or gender-based violence, as appropriate. needs.

The authorities should also ensure that women have access to their own funds and inform male family members that they cannot benefit from the benefits of female family members. The authorities should provide childcare facilities so that women can attend language classes, including for women still in temporary accommodation. Authorities should also provide better access to mental health support and educate evacuees about its importance.

“The women I spoke to are resilient and eager to move forward to start a new life in the UK,” Fetrat said. “But they feel stuck right now, in environments that are often dangerous for women. They need more support from the UK government to rebuild their lives and those of their families.

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