Evacuees cared for in Wigan since fleeing Afghanistan are leaving for new lives
Evacuees from strife-torn Afghanistan who made Wigan their new home last year are moving on.
Dozens of terrified families, who had fled their homeland as it was rapidly overrun by the Taliban when US and UK troops suddenly pulled out in August, were put up at a borough hotel while permanent residences could be found for them.
The refugees, including women, children and the elderly, were among those deemed in mortal danger from the hard-line regime because family members had been working with western allies while the Taliban was kept at bay and so were deemed enemies.
Arriving in Wigan, they were given a warm welcome, with council workers and volunteers co-ordinating aid, assistance and education for them, while big-hearted members of the public, who had learned of their whereabouts, arrived with donations such as clothing and children’s toys.
The vast majority have now been resettled permanently across the UK.
A handful of families will temporarily stay at other hotels, before moving to permanent accommodation.
Council bosses today praised the hard-working teams supporting the evacuees as the borough stood down its temporary accommodation facility.
Local authority teams, working alongside health and wellbeing partners and the Department for Work and Pensions, have provided comprehensive wraparound support, creating a homely environment boosted by the many donations from residents.
Chief executive Alison Mckenzie-Folan said: “We are extremely proud of how our officers who have worked so diligently and with compassion to create a welcoming environment.
“They have embodied our Be Kind spirit and have added to our strong history as a borough that comes together to support those fleeing conflict across the world.
“It has been heart-warming to see the bonds created between our staff and the families and individuals and we have been relieved to see so many find permanent places to live and start their new lives in the UK.
“We would like to thank all of our partners, community organisations and residents for the teamwork displayed as part of this operation.”
The gratitude and relief of the evacuees was evident from the outset in Wigan.
Soon after their arrival, Wigan Today went to the accommodation where they were being looked after and spoke to dad Abdul Hamid Ghiasi who was full of praise for those who had come to his and his family’s aid, whether it be council or NHS workers or members of the public.
But he had a harrowing tale to tell of how he and his loved ones had managed to escape the murderous regime back home just in time.
He had been working in the defence section at the British Embassy, supporting both the British and Afghan forces, playing a key role liaising between various security organisations and organising senior military visits.
As the Taliban approached Kabul, fears grew among everyone working with or supporting the British Embassy.
In mid-August, Abdul went to the office and was told to collect everything in his drawer and destroy any paperwork.
But when he went home he could not speak to his family about what had happened.
He said: “The next day the Taliban came to the centre of Kabul itself and they were everywhere.
“A large number of people working with international organisations, especially British forces and Americans, went to the airport. Thousands and thousands of people were at the airport and thousands were standing at the walls. Everyone wanted to be evacuated.”
Abdul was advised to keep a very low profile at home, not even looking out of the window of the flat in case he was seen by the Taliban, and wait for advice from the British Embassy.
He received a message telling him to leave everything he had at home and go to the airport.
“I got my wife and my son and sister and we ran,” he said.
He had to wear a face covering after leaving home, as he was terrified of being recognised and killed.
They got to the airport and waited for seven hours, but could not get to the gate as there were so many people. Abdul said members of the Taliban were there and shot people.
The family, including Abdul’s baby son, returned home late at night and he contacted friends to let them know he had been unsuccessful.
But the next day, they were given another opportunity and this time they made it to the airport.
Fortunately Abdul had ID showing he worked for the British Embassy, which helped him.
He felt safer at the airport still knew that everyone was at risk from the Taliban, especially if he was recognised.
“They could do anything at any time,” he said.
“Especially before we entered the airport, we were scared how we would enter the airport and there were suicide bombers and shootings.”
Lots of people had already been killed, but Abdul said it was their “only option” if they wanted to get out alive.
They waited for hours for a flight, without food or water, only for it to be cancelled.
They were taken to a room with hundreds of people and hours later, they were finally airborne.
The decision for the Wigan hotel facility to stand down has been made with the Home Office, reflecting a decrease in demand and local circumstances.
Since their arrival in the UK, as part of Operation Warm Welcome, all Afghan arrivals are being supported into employment and to register with a GP, and all school-age children have now been enrolled in schools and colleges across the country.
All Afghan citizens brought to the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) have the right to work, access to education and healthcare and are able to apply for public funds.
For more information and for offers of support, visit www.gov.uk/government/publications/afghanistan-housing-portal-offers-of-support