The Government’s decision to move evacuated Afghan families hundreds of miles across England to new temporary accommodation caused “considerable disruption” to the education of children facing exams, the High Court has been told.
Three refugee families are bringing a legal challenge against the Home Secretary, alleging she failed to fulfil a commitment to help them rebuild their lives in the UK after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in the summer of 2021.
They claim an offer to transfer them from a London hotel – in an area where children were studying and others had jobs – to further temporary accommodation in northern England was “unlawful”, the court was told.
Lawyers for the families say several children still do not have school places months after the move, while one woman is at risk of losing her job in the capital.
They accuse the Home Secretary, a role currently occupied by Suella Braverman, of failing to take into account the personal circumstances of the Afghan nationals when considering where they could be housed.
The Home Secretary’s lawyers dispute the linked claims, saying individual situations were looked at but the Cabinet minister was not under an “enforceable duty” to provide accommodation to the families.
Martin Westgate KC, for the families, told a High Court hearing in London on Tuesday they were brought to the UK via resettlement schemes and settled in London over the course of a year.
They experienced “upheaval” when they were offered the move up north last September after their hotel ended its contract with the Government, the court was told.
Mr Westgate said the families had a “vulnerability to a succession of temporary moves”, with the transfer coming when some children were at a “critical stage” in their education.
The barrister said the families’ situation “applies to many others who are in bridging accommodation” and while he did not have current figures, last August some 9,667 people under the resettlement schemes were still living in hotels.
In written arguments, Mr Westgate said the UK Government’s Operation Warm Welcome aimed to “ensure Afghans arriving in the UK receive the vital support they need to rebuild their lives, find work, pursue education and integrate into their local communities”.
This involved arranging temporary “bridging accommodation” in hotels until families could secure permanent housing – likely in the private-rented sector – with the support of public funding, Mr Westgate said.
While in London, he said, the families, among the 15,000 Afghans evacuated to the UK during the British military’s Operation Pitting, had “established themselves in the area” and children were making “good progress” in schools and had made friends.
Mr Westgate said: “The families have been constrained to give up jobs, school places, support networks and other important ties only to be moved to further temporary accommodation, which may itself be brought to an end at any time. Children were taken out of school with no other placement arranged for them.
“Whilst they remain in temporary accommodation, they are vulnerable to further moves – potentially to an indefinite string of temporary placements – so making it impossible for them to settle or to progress with their education and social development at any location.”
He said there is no evidence the Home Secretary “balanced the children’s best interests”, no indication there was an inquiry into the availability of new school places and no consideration that several children faced exams this year.
He said while the families had not been forced to live anywhere, the “practical reality” is they had no option but to move.
Cathryn McGahey KC, representing the Government, said in written arguments that the bid to have the accommodation offers quashed and the families rehoused in or near where they previously lived was “misconceived”.
She said the interests of school-aged children had “at all times been central” to decision-making and individual circumstances were considered.
Ms McGahey said the availability of local education was taken into account when commissioning bridging accommodation.
She said a decision last summer to end the temporary housing of evacuated Afghans in London hotels was made due to cost and local “migration pressures” exacerbated by migrants arriving to the UK via small boats across the Channel.
The barrister said that as a result it was “inevitable” the families would be offered accommodation outside the capital, with the concern it was “unrealistic” for Afghans to find permanent rented homes there.
She said providing temporary accommodation was an “operational measure” and the Home Secretary was “not under any enforceable duty to provide accommodation to the (families)”.
“There was no published policy through which the Secretary of State purported to commit herself to providing bridging accommodation to these individuals,” she added.
Ms McGahey told the court the Home Secretary’s decisions were “all fully within the lawful exercise of her discretion”.
A claim brought by a fourth family has been withdrawn after private rented accommodation was found, the court was told.
The hearing before Mr Justice Henshaw concluded on Tuesday, with a judgment due at a later date.