Afghan children evacuated to the UK after the fall of Kabul are suffering an “alarming” increase in mental ill health, including some fixated on “constantly watching the news about Afghanistan”, MPs have been told.
In a submission to the home affairs committee, the Refugee Council warned children were having suicidal thoughts, self-harming and not eating because of their mental distress largely due to worries about family members still in Afghanistan.
Even specialists treating them felt hopeless in face of the children’s mental anxiety and needed more financial and psychological support from statutory bodies than they were getting, said the Refugee Council.
“We are seeing an alarming increase in safeguarding concerns, e.g. young people using self-destructive coping strategies to manage anxiety,” said the council.
“[This included] self-harming, not eating, not communicating with carers and other professionals, suicidal ideation, [while] some are fixated on constantly watching the news about Afghanistan.
“In many cases, we witnessed young people who expressed an increase or re-appearance of trauma symptoms, such as acute distress, difficulties with sleep, nightmares, flashbacks, lost interest in education and other activities, and their complete isolation.
“At the same time, a lot of professionals working with young people from Afghanistan contacted us in desperation because they are feeling hopeless. They don’t know how to respond to the young people’s worsened presentation.”
Families left in limbo
The Refugee Council said it had provided online psycho-education support groups for more than 100 staff who still felt they needed more help but were “not aware of anyone else, including the statutory bodies, providing such targeted support”.
It warned the mental ill health was being compounded by families being left in limbo, living in hotels six weeks after being evacuated but without the Government providing any information as to how long before they are to be provided with permanent accommodation.
“This information void and the lack of forward planning are having a significant negative impact on people’s well-being and are a contributing factor to their mental health deteriorating further,” it said.
The Refugee Council report also highlighted Afghan families left without access to any money for several weeks because of delays in providing them with Aspen cards, which are used by asylum seekers to buy food and essential goods.
Insufficient funds to support the refugees
Afghan families had also been unable to open bank accounts or access services because of delays in providing them with UK ID documents
The Refugee Council also cited cases of unsupervised young children wandering around hotels as a result of the Afghans emulating social systems where children played freely outside.
It warned the £5 million from the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) for Afghan families in hotels only covered an initial GP health assessment and Covid-19 vaccines. The money was only sufficient for 5,000 people despite there being 7,000 who needed access to health services, said the refugee council.
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