Afghan refugees must be given the tools to thrive, not just survive

By Geeta Nanda | 04 October 2021

Since thousands of Afghans began arriving in the UK, escaping a desperate fate at the hands of the Taliban, there has been an impressive and heart-warming public response. Time and again, people across the country have offered donations and other forms of help to ease the transition for refugees reaching this country with little more than the clothes on their backs.

However, the commitment towards these refugees must extend beyond an initial warm embrace. If they are to be given the opportunity to rebuild their lives in Britain, then those who left everything behind in Afghanistan must be handed the tools to secure a long-term future. First and foremost, they need the safety and security of a physical refuge, a roof over their heads. For this reason, my organisation, Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH) is proud to have recently pledged to provide homes for 50 Afghan families.

We have done so because the guarantee of a place to call home is fundamental to their wellbeing. The need to house the thousands who have arrived is both real and urgent. However, decades of experience in social housing have also taught us that a safe and secure home must not be the end goal in itself. Rather, it is a crucial foundation upon which a brighter tomorrow can be built. As an organisation, we house more than 100,000 residents in the UK. Crucially, we also provide a wide range of care and support programs, employment support, community engagement and many more services for our residents. Ultimately, if people are to thrive, they must be empowered to look outwards at the opportunities beyond their homes, rather than retreat inwards.

Perhaps more than anyone, this maxim applies to refugees, who face the potential issues of trauma and typically have little idea where to turn for practical, material or emotional support. With our organisational roots in housing the Windrush generation of the 1950s, MTVH has an historic and steadfast commitment towards helping migrants and refugees. For more than a decade, our Migration Foundation has played an important role in this work and will continue to do so moving forward. People seeking asylum from across the world have not only received accommodation from the Foundation. They have also been given all-important wider support to access legal advice and employment opportunities, helping many to stand on their own two feet.

This expertise and experience plays a critical role in our commitment to house 50 Afghan families. It is not just a pledge to provide accommodation. It is an undertaking to do what we can to help these refugees rebuild their lives. We plan to help them access the health services they need to live healthy lives. We plan to connect them to the employment opportunities they need to live self-sufficient lives. We plan to help them integrate into the wider community so that they can lead fulfilling shared lives. Ultimately, we plan to give them the means not just to live, but to thrive.  

Inevitably, the plight of Afghan refugees will dwindle from the media spotlight and fade from the forefront of public awareness. However, it is critical that the welcome they have so far enjoyed is not fleeting. As a country and as human beings, we have a duty to help Afghan refugees not only survive, but to build new lives. We must ensure that once the initial enthusiasm wanes, that they are not left to struggle.

We are proudly playing our part. We are committed to making a long-term difference to their lives.  Luckily, as an organisation, MTVH has the advantage of a tried and tested playbook for helping migrants and refugees. It will be key to developing lasting solutions for the new Afghan arrivals. However, this is not work that can be done alone. We encourage our partners and colleagues in the sector to take part in this effort too. Ensuring that Afghan refugees have a place to call home is a crucial start, but it must not be the end. This is a diverse sector, filled with expertise and insight which can be harnessed collectively to help guarantee their future. Now is the time to come together and make a real, meaningful and long-lasting difference to those who need our help the most.    

Geeta Nanda OBE is chief executive of Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing and chair of the G15 group of London’s largest housing associations

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