04 August 2022

Our lives are paused, says Afghan evacuee after 11 months in UK hotel

04 August 2022

An Afghan evacuee who lived in a hotel near Leeds for almost a year has described feeling like her family’s “lives are paused” as they await news of permanent accommodation from the Home Office.

In a letter seen by the BBC, refugees minister Lord Harrington appealed to councils to help house the 10,500 Afghans currently staying at hotels across the UK.

Marwa Koofi, 21, fled Kabul, Afghanistan when the city fell to the Taliban in August last year and has lived in two hotels over the last 12 months.

She said the year has felt “wasted” and has recently been split up from family members after three of them were moved from a hotel in Selby, North Yorkshire to one near Crawley, West Sussex.

“I stayed in a hotel for 11 months, I don’t want to stay in a hotel for another 11 months,” Ms Koofi, who is set to study International Relations at King’s College London in September, told the PA news agency.

Marwa Koofi was recently moved from a hotel in Selby, North Yorkshire to one near Crawley, West Sussex (Marwa Koofi/PA)

“I have wasted a year because my hotel (in Selby) was in a location where I couldn’t do anything.

“When I think back to the year, I just see it as a blank – it’s nothing, I haven’t done anything.

“You don’t even have the energy to get up from your bed because you know your day is nothing.

“I feel like our lives are paused, I just want our lives to be played.”

Ms Koofi was moved to the hotel near Crawley on July 26 where she stays with her mother and brother.

Her 35-year-old sister remains at the hotel outside of Leeds whereas Ms Koofi’s two brothers, aged 23 and 26, were sent to a hotel in Manchester.

She said being separated from her family has reopened psychological wounds inflicted after leaving their home in Afghanistan.

“With Leeds, all of us were together and we were there for each other,” she said.

The UK Armed Forces aided in the evacuation of British nationals and Afghans from Kabul (PA) (PA Media)

“We had a wound from leaving Afghanistan and with each other, we tried to bandage it and we were fine and the wound wasn’t bleeding anymore.

“But after splitting the families, it’s like the bandages are removed and they’ve started bleeding.

“The memories of Afghanistan come every day and since we are alone, we have more time to think about what happened to us.”

Ms Koofi said Lord Harrington’s push to house Afghan refugees is only “a great idea” if it is going to materialise.

“This is something that Afghans really want, I hope this one doesn’t fail,” she said.

“I want to have that feeling after losing my house in Afghanistan and what I want is to have a house that feels like I’m at home.

“Once you feel like you’re in a house and it’s your own home and you can clean your room, arrange your house, maybe it won’t feel like your own country but you might feel like it’s your house.”

I don't feel hope anymore

The student added that she and her family have began to lost hope they might find permanent accommodation.

“There is always hope and there is always a bright light but I want to feel that word again,” she said.

“I don’t feel it anymore.

“No one else does – none of my family.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The response to the crisis in Afghanistan last August was one of the most challenging, intense and complex overseas operations undertaken by the UK, and the largest air evacuation operation in recent memory.

“We are proud this country has provided homes for more than 7,000 Afghan evacuees in such a short space of time, but we face a challenge of there currently not being enough local housing accommodation in the UK not just for Afghans and those in need of protection but also British citizens who are also on a waiting list for homes.

“While hotels do not provide a long-term solution, they do offer safe, secure and clean accommodation.

“We will continue to bring down the number of people in bridging hotels, moving people into more sustainable accommodation as quickly as possible.”

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