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Afghan refugees fear homelessness as landlords ‘refuse to rent’ to them

Exclusive: Home Office told thousands who fled the Taliban to fend for themselves – now they can’t find places to live

Adam Bychawski
10 May 2023, 10.00pm

Passengers evacuated from Afghanistan disembark from a British Royal Air Force (RAF) Airbus KC2 Voyager aircraft, after landing at RAF Brize Norton station in southern England on August 24, 2021

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Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty

Afghan refugees abandoned by the Home Office to fend for themselves in the private rented sector say they could be left homeless because letting agents won’t rent to them.

In March, the government began ordering people who had fled the Taliban in 2021 to vacate the hotels where they have been temporarily housed since arriving in the UK – giving them three months to leave.

Officials said the refugees should start looking for their own places to rent on property search websites like Zoopla – breaking a promise to find them ‘settled accommodation’.

But several have now told openDemocracy they have been given no support to navigate the rental market, and that letting agents stop replying to them after finding out they are refugees.

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Asma* worked at the British Embassy in Kabul before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August 2021. She has been looking for a home for five months, and has enquired about more than 50 properties and managed to secure ten viewings. But all her offers have been rejected.

“There was one property where the letting agents kept calling me telling me to make an offer. But the moment I gave them a letter from the council that explained we are Afghan refugees and we will be financially supported they completely stopped replying – they wouldn’t even email me to say no,” she said.

On another occasion Asma was told by a letting agent that a particular landlord would not accept tenants on benefits – even though Asma also has a job – because their insurance provider would not cover them if they fell into arrears.

All the refugees openDemocracy spoke to said they had faced similar rejections.

“As soon as they understand that you are new to this country, that you don’t have an established job, that you will depend on government benefits, they lose interest immediately,” said Ahmed, who also has been looking for five months.

Ministers said Afghans would receive “significant support from central and local government at every step” to find places to rent when the government announced it planned to end the use of hotels as temporary accommodation in March.

But Asma’s local council says it cannot offer her any help until she secures a rental agreement for her four adult siblings and parents.

“It’s not like I’m just sitting and waiting for someone to come and help me – I’m trying everything possible that I can do from my side,” she said. “Now we’ve been given this short deadline saying you have three months to find a place on your own.

“It’s not realistic, and it’s really sad. We were promised so many things initially and now we’re not getting those promises fulfilled. It is heartbreaking.”

Kabir*, who worked for the Department for International Development for 12 years before fleeing Afghanistan amid death threats, is in the same situation.

“No one has spoken to us, not the Home Office, nor the council [after the announcement that hotels are closing],” he said. “Some people are saying: ‘It’s better if they send us back to Afghanistan instead of making us homeless, because we didn’t come to the UK to become homeless.’

“We already lost everything because of our association with the British government. We lost our families, we lost our jobs, we lost our country.”

One of the difficulties Afghans face in finding a property to rent is the lack of a guarantor. But even the very few who find one still struggle to convince landlords to rent to them.

Ahmed*, who has been living in a hotel with his family, including his nine-month-old son, enquired about more than a dozen properties and made six-hour round trips for viewings before finally having an offer accepted.

He and his wife then travelled two hours to London to submit all the required paperwork and identification to the letting agent.

When it came to paying the deposit, Ahmed told the letting agent that the council and the Home Office would provide it. At that point, the landlord changed their mind.

“The letting agent informed me that the landlord is not able to rent the house to us because they are questioning whether we will be able to afford the rent in the future. My guarantor even offered to help pay six months’ rent in advance but they still rejected us,” he said.

The council told Ahmed it could not pay the deposit money directly to him. Meanwhile, he has been told by the Home Office he has until August to vacate the hotel he and his family of eight have been staying in.

“It’s completely unrealistic. What about Afghans who don’t have a guarantor? If they expect people to leave this hotel in three months’ time you will see thousands on the streets,” he said.

What’s more, not all Afghans are in a position to search for properties themselves.

Massoud*, who worked as an interpreter with British forces in Helmand, speaks English but said he could not write well enough to communicate with letting agents and landlords.

“Many people don’t speak English – how can they deal with a letting agency?” he said. “They gave us a website but most people don’t understand how to use it and we haven’t been given any training.”

There are 12 other families staying in his hotel, but Massoud said none had had any luck in finding a place.

*Names have been changed.

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