Hero Afghan pilot ‘trapped’ in Home Office hotel and facing homelessness as government drags heels

A hero Afghan pilot granted asylum in the UK after a five-month-long campaign by The Independent is still trapped living in a Home Office hotel, one month on, as he remains in limbo over what his future in Britain holds.

The air force lieutenant, who fled the Taliban and came to the UK on a small boat because it was “impossible” to get here via a legal route, is facing imminent homelessness if he cannot find anywhere to stay once the government serves him with eviction papers.

He has been searching for work and a place to live now that he has a right to stay in the UK but has struggled to find anywhere he can afford, with only universal credit benefit payments to live on. His young family, including his wife, are still trapped under Taliban rule in Afghanistan and need family visas – which are hard to apply for without legal help – before they can consider trying to come to the UK.

Although he can turn to his local council for help once he has his eviction notice, local authorities are prioritising families first and single men are often left to live on the street. Refugees are increasingly presenting as homeless because of a change to Home Office policy which is leaving them with little time to find help once they have their asylum claims granted.

The pilot told The Independent: “I’m trying a lot to find a shared house or flat but it is very very difficult to find it. I’m still waiting for my leaving [eviction] letter from the Home Office. I haven’t received it yet but if the situation is continuing like this maybe I will become homeless.”

He added that he was eager to start work but was struggling to secure it: “I need to make a good decision for my future and for my family. I can work and I can study. I will try and search to see if I can use my pilot training here in the UK. I’m thinking about how can I get the duty that I had in Afghanistan in aviation. If I could get a job I could stand on my own feet soon.”

He continued: “I have a serious problem, which is an economic problem. If I can get some income, it will be very easy for me. There are lots of aviation academies, and if I can pay for them, I can get my license and it would not be difficult. But right now it is difficult because of my economic situation. I will try and find out how I can manage.

“If I don’t have success I will try and study another field that could lead to a job. This is my plan.”

Refugees typically have just 28 days from when asylum is granted before all government support is removed. In some cases, they have as little as seven days’ notice because the government is delaying giving asylum seekers the documents they need to secure housing and apply for benefits.

But the pilot is still waiting to be served his eviction notice – which is often the only evidence a local authority will accept as proof of imminent homelessness prompting them to offer housing help.

Steve Smith, CEO of refugee charity Care4Calais said that the pilot “remains in a state of limbo that many newly granted refugees find themselves in”.

He continued: “The euphoria of being granted status is, sadly, quickly replaced with the stresses and challenges of finding accommodation and work or training. Today, with the recent surge in asylum grants, those challenges are greater than they have been in the last few decades.”

The pilot, who flew 30 missions alongside Nato coalition forces, is also desperate to bring his young family to Britain and out of hiding in Afghanistan but is facing thousands of pounds in legal fees to do so.

Supporters of the pilot, who fled the Taliban regime and came to Britain across the Channel on a small boat, have urged the Home Office to help get his family to the UK as quickly as possible. Although the family reunification application is free, it would cost thousands of pounds to get legal help with the application if a pro bono lawyer cannot be found. Even if the visa is granted, the family would also have to fund their own journey to the UK.

Mr Smith said: “Family reunification is an expensive process, and getting out of Afghanistan is a logistical nightmare. More needs to be done to assist Afghan families like the pilot’s. The government has accepted his service alongside our troops has placed his life at risk in Afghanistan. But that risk equally applies to his family. We can’t abandon them to a life of fear under the Taliban regime.”

Figures obtained by The Independent in July showed that more than 11,000 people who are currently waiting for reunification with their UK-based families are stranded abroad. More than 7,000 of those waiting are women and girls.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We encourage individuals to make their onward plans as soon as possible after receiving their decision, whether that is leaving the UK following a refusal, or taking steps to integrate in the UK following a grant. We provide support for refugees to access jobs, benefits and housing.”