Encountering the hostile environment: recently arrived Afghan migrants in London

Ryan, Louise, López, María E. and Dalceggio, Alessia (2024) Encountering the hostile environment: recently arrived Afghan migrants in London. Critical Social Policy, 44 (2). pp. 242-262. ISSN 1461-703X


Following the dramatic evacuation from Kabul airport in August 2021, the UK government proclaimed its commitment to a ‘warm welcome’ for Afghans. In this paper we draw on original qualitative research to explore the emerging experiences of evacuees, and other recent arrivals, during their first year in London. Using the narratives of our Afghans participants, as well as insights from key stakeholders, we show how they navigated slow, opaque bureaucratic processes and lack of communication with official agencies. As a result of these lengthy processes, many thousands of evacuees remained in temporary hotel accommodation for protracted periods. Drawing on the concept of ‘everyday bordering’, we explore the extent to which Afghan resettlement policies are achieving their objectives. We consider how such policies are birthed within a punitive immigration system, which is designed to ‘wear down’ migrants in the UK, regardless of their reason for migration. Moreover, we argue that the ad hoc response of the Home Office and the Foreign Office has created ‘false distinctions’ between categories of Afghan refugees, reinforcing notions of ‘deserving’ versus ‘underserving’ migrants. This distinction allows the government to present itself as humanitarian, ‘rescuing’ people from Afghanistan, while simultaneously maintaining its commitment to the ‘hostile immigration environment’.

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