At a volunteer association near Heathrow, hundreds of refugees are arriving daily needing provisions and support
Last modified on Sat 28 Aug 2021 19.21 BST
Refugee charities and Afghan community organisations are struggling to cope with the demand for their services, with thousands of refugees arriving in the UK in recent days.
For the fourth day in succession about 600 Afghan refugees, including unaccompanied minors, have lined the streets of a nondescript west London business park to access clothes, translation services and immigration advice.
In Feltham, west London, Afghans have been arriving at the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association (ACAA) seeking basic provisions and citizens’ advice services either for themselves or on behalf of friends and family.
“People are crying, they’re emotional, they’re worried for their relatives,” says Dr Nooralhaq Nasimi, the director of the ACAA. “There’s a lot of anxiety and frustration in the community and people are worried about what this means for the future of Afghanistan.”
Nasimi, himself a refugee having fled the Taliban with his young family in 1999, established the ACAA in 2001. “I arrived on the back of a lorry in a refrigerator container. When I first came to the UK, I faced a lot of challenges. I realised there was a strong need for community provision to support other people who are in the same position.”
Nasimi says the most pressing issue is the lack of English-language skills among the Afghan population, meaning many are unable to apply for social security, register at their local GP or enrol their children in school. “Everything was new, everything was different and that’s true for the people arriving this week,” he said.
Situated just a mile east of Heathrow airport, where many refugees have arrived in the last few days, the association has been overwhelmed, particularly since the evacuation was severely disrupted by a suicide bombing on Thursday, which killed at least 182 people.
“We’re just a small organisation and we don’t have the required resources. Imagine if we didn’t have this army of volunteers, what would happen to the hundreds of people who are queueing outside at 5am?”
At the association, a community centre and advice clinic, Nasimi is helping people to contact relatives in Afghanistan and bring family members – many of whom are at risk of Taliban reprisals – to the UK. For many, the despair is just beginning, not least because they have not heard from loved ones who remain in Afghanistan for a number of days.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed on Saturday that the final UK evacuation flight purely for Afghan nationals has left Kabul airport, with ministers conceding that at least 1,100 Afghan nationals will not be removed in time.
Aided by 30 volunteers, the ACAA is doing its best to coordinate donations, ferrying essential supplies from Feltham to the airport hotels where many Afghan arrivals are in 10-day quarantine. Uncertainty remains over how and where the estimated 10,000 or more Afghans being resettled in the UK this year will be accommodated.
The association has also supported dozens of unaccompanied minors in recent days, helping them to access foster care. Nasimi says one of the organisation’s most important roles is in helping to recruit foster carers from the Afghan community.
The local MP, Seema Malhotra, was in attendance on Friday but the ACAA has received no formal support from national government or the local authority, Hounslow.
Nasimi adds: “I’m really disappointed that we haven’t had any support from the Home Office so far.”
The UK government has said it will “work with stakeholders, including devolved administrations and local councils, to ensure that Afghans who will be rebuilding their lives in the UK have the support they need”.
Nooralhaq’s son, Darius Nasimi, a 22-year-old King’s College London graduate, is one of the volunteers helping his father to provide immigration and welfare advice to the Afghan community.
“The whole family’s been contributing, giving advice and sorting out donations,” said Darius, who was born in Odessa, Ukraine, while his family were making their way across Europe to the UK.
The organisation is reliant on volunteers to distribute essentials, he said, and they are particularly desperate for clothes, toys and toiletries they can give to those in need. But without a qualified legal adviser, Darius adds that there’s only so much assistance the organisation can provide.
“The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is devastating and we’re reliant on volunteers, without the resources we need to support new arrivals,” he said.