Concerns have been raised that the way Afghan refugees have been moved into a block of flats may stoke tensions with the wider community

A total of 36 households fleeing the Taliban due to their work for the British in Afghanistan have begun moving into a newly built block of flats in Highgate Newtown.

Camden Council first built the block of 41 flats – originally planned as 21 – in Bertram Street as part of a mostly private scheme, with proceeds intended to raise money for a community centre.

But it bought them back in February for an undisclosed amount, using a government grant to help house families who helped the British Armed Forces in Afghanistan.

The Afghan families have been awarded special status to come to the UK in thanks for their contribution in roles such as translators, doctors, civil servants and journalists.

But some in the community, wary of being called "racists, or nimbies", have raised concerns at the way their moving in has been handled.

Ham & High: Some locals want the new 'luxury' flats for themselves while others fear being overlooked by new tenantsSome locals want the new 'luxury' flats for themselves while others fear being overlooked by new tenants (Image: Nathalie Raffray)

One neighbour, who asked not to be named, claimed that people moving in late at night was not only noisy but made it appear the council was acting surreptitiously. The council stressed that it understood only one family had brought their furniture in late at night.

The neighbour said a lack of engagement had led to one person calling the police on a group of Afghan men standing in the road after midnight because she did not recognise them.

They said: "So we already have very angry people calling the police on vulnerable newcomers because Camden are rushing (bodging) this whole scandalous scheme."

Another person warned that having only Afghan people in the block will lead to a lack of integration and said the community would have preferred a mixed development.

They said: "My mum used to work for councils and when Bengali communities came over in the 1980s their policy was not to create ghettos so they could integrate, but they continue to create ghettos and now there's no integration and that causes a lot of problems."

They claimed the council had bought a former council house on the street for £800,000 that it had sold many years ago for £20,000 to house the refugees.

They said: "That didn't sit right with me, that the council can come up with that kind of money to buy a private house in the Highgate area for that kind of money."

The council said it bought properties with "ring fenced grants (...) at no cost to its core social housing budget".

It added that it was working with Hopscotch Women’s Centre, which has been working with the Afghan families since 2021, as well as a Highgate volunteer group, to help the new residents transition into the local community and was hoping to introduce a community “buddy” initiative in the new year.

Cllr Pat Callaghan, acting leader of Camden Council, said families had been moving in during the day time and only one family brought furniture into their home late at night.

"We know Camden residents want to welcome and support refugees, who leave their country not by choice but because they are fleeing war, persecution or humanitarian disaster," she added.

She said there were many examples of refugees "fully integrating" in Camden thanks to the welcoming attitude of their neighbours, so much so that they are now "embedded" in community life.

She added: "This is a big move for them and so we’re asking Camden residents to be helpful, kind and welcoming. 

"We have been communicating with residents since last March about this move, through letters, emails, estate newsletters and meetings, so the community are very well engaged and many people will be actively involved in the New Year, helping their new neighbours settle in.”