Blind man forced to live in ‘prison’ council home with no bed and plagued with mould



An Afghan refugee blinded by a terrorist bomb while fighting alongside British troops has made a desperate plea for help to free him and his young family from their ‘prison’ like housing in the UK.

For months, Amer Akhtar, 52, his wife and five kids have been living in a tiny one-bed flat in a Walsall housing complex with no beds, no table to eat at, damp and mould on the walls, nowhere for the kids to play, and in constant dispute with neighbours.

The flat, which is located in a block only supposed to house older singles or couples, was initially only home to Amer, but is now completely unsuitable after his family joined him eight months ago, Birmingham Live reports.

The housing association that placed Amer there agree it is “totally inappropriate” for a family – but say alternative options are limited, pointing to the huge social housing shortage in the region.

Amer says the situation has left them all utterly desperate, losing hope for the fresh start they wished for.

He is a proud Afghan Army general who fought with British troops against Taliban
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Darren Quinton/Birmingham Live)

“It is like a prison. I just can’t take it,” he told BirminghamLive.

The once proud soldier now keeps all of his possessions in two small holdalls, including medals awarded during his Army service.

The former General oversaw 500 troops in Zabul province, neighbouring Helmand, and spent a decade working alongside British troops to root out terrorists.

Wife Himat, 37, and their children, Najib, 17, Nazia, 15, Dunia, six, Hina, five, and Hashmat, two, moved in after being granted asylum eight months ago as political refugees, themselves Taliban targets.

Increasing arguments between the depressed couple, and noise from the young kids, have caused conflict with the neighbours, who want the family out.

Speaking through a translator and local Afghan charity founder Fahim Mohammed Zazai, Amer told us of the ‘high status, good job and happy family life’ he had left behind in Afghanistan – and how this new start was not what he hoped for in ‘rich, safe Britain’.

“I served in the Army for 33 years, and worked alongside the British Army for the last ten years, providing intelligence. I worked against terrorism my whole life, risked my life, and lost my sight, in doing so to help my country.”

The former General served alongside British troops to fight the Taliban
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Darren Quinton/Birmingham Live)

He was blinded two years ago when he was travelling to work and drove over a terrorist landmine. In the blast he struck his head against the vehicle roof and his vision was gone.

Despite operations in India and a mercy dash to the UK at the time to try to save his sight, he remains blind in both eyes.

Further investigations are under way locally to see if there is any hope of his sight returning, though after more than two years he is not hopeful.

“The (Afghan) president himself permitted me to come for treatment to the UK, and later to return to claim asylum,” he said.

Now he says if he returns to his home country, the Taliban will kill him
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Darren Quinton/Birmingham Live)

He now has an indefinite right to remain and full citizen rights, while his family each have refugee status and five-year clearance to stay.

When asked if he could safely return to his native country, he replied: “If I go back they (the Taliban) will not hesitate to kill me.”

Speaking about his living conditions, Amer said: “It has been 11 months in this small flat, with one bedroom, one living room, a tiny kitchen and shower room.

“The children cannot play, they cannot go out on the streets, we have been to many places for help but nobody helps us.

“I was not expecting this treatment from the UK. I thought the UK was a welcoming place to people like me – I worked alongside the British Army in Afghanistan, risking my life, I had a good relationship with them.

“But now I am living like I am in a prison, I am not sure what will happen next. The UK is one of the richest countries in the world but we are treated like this. It has been very difficult.”

The social housing is completely unsuited to a family
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Darren Quinton/Birmingham Live)

He said the lack of space and privacy was destroying the family.

“It is affecting everyone. I have depression and anxiety, I sometimes think it might be better to kill myself and have an end to this.

“In one room we sleep, we eat, we drink, we study.

“There is nowhere for the children to play – we are by a main road, and there is a shared lounge but the door is locked and it says ‘No Children Allowed.’

“I have a two-year-old and when he wakes in the night, so do the whole family because we live in the same room.

“The children are not getting enough sleep, the teacher says to us ‘why are you not looking after the children better, why are they not sleeping’ – they are tired, they are not able to concentrate, they are losing their education, we have lost a good family life.”

He adds: “We are all depressed and we shout, it affects our relationships with each other, with the children, because we argue, the neighbours are upset by our noise, everyone is blaming us and it is very very difficult.”

The family all sleep, eat and play on the floor, making staying well also a challenge.

Amer said: “If one gets flu, we all get ill.”

Dated decor, damp walls and lack of basic amenities can be seen throughout the property
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Darren Quinton/Birmingham Live)

He added: “It is not safe for me, or my family in Afghanistan. That is why I have to just accept being here, being in this room, as we cannot return.

“I would not be here living this depressed life unless I really needed to – I had my status, my job, my home, but I have lost everything.”

When asked for his hopes for the future, he said: “I do not have hope. I have no vision. I now live for my children, I hope they get the chance to live a normal life, to be safe and free – but I do not wish for a better life for me, I cannot see, cannot do anything for myself.”

Amer’s wife Himat is also struggling.

“I was so happy when we arrived in England but I had no idea we would end up in hell.

“It is so difficult, I am struggling with life, I do not know what to do for the best. I am on depression medicine, I feel very low, I do not eat well. Every day is hard, for me and the children. Four months ago we all caught flu and we have never really got rid of it.

“The children are not happy, always asking when we will move to a house, they all have back pain and aches from sleeping on the floor. There is no space for beds, and also to eat. We do everything on the floor.”

The kitchen and bathroom are small, with visible damp and mould, and poorly decorated, she claims.

The family say there is damp in the kitchen and bathroom
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Darren Quinton/Birmingham Live)

Mr Zazai, himself a refugee, set up Walsall Afghan Community and Welfare Centre to support fellow new arrivals, not just from Afghanistan but across the Middle East.

He said the experience of Amer and his family was not unusual, with a desperate lack of housing for families, despite the will from people to accept refugees from war-torn countries.

“The help they are given is very limited. The council and housing association say there is nowhere, and then we are sent a list of websites with private housing on and told to try these. But we call and they do not want families on benefits.

“I arranged more than 20 properties for them and each time they hear they are on benefits, or Amer is disabled, and they say no.”

Amer hangs his head with despair over their miserable situation
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Darren Quinton/Birmingham Live)

Rachel Crownshaw, Executive Director of Operations at GreenSquareAccord, said: “Firstly, it is important to say that we have the highest regard for the service offered and the sacrifices made by Mr. Amer Mohammad Akhtar, and his family, in their support for British troops on operation in Helmand, Afghanistan.

“On his arrival from Afghanistan, Mr Mohammad Akhtar was correctly housed as a single person, based on his circumstances at that time. However, the subsequent and unexpected arrival of his wife and family has created a particularly challenging and complex situation.

“The availability of family accommodation within the local social housing market is incredibly scarce, and the waiting lists are long. An offer was made to support the family’s transition to a private rented property, but this suggestion was declined.

“Our local housing support team is working closely with a number of departments within the Council to try and assist the family in resolving some of their ongoing domestic and tenancy issues.

“We will continue all our efforts to bring this matter to a fair and timely conclusion, for everyone.”

Walsall Council said: “We are unable to comment on individual cases. Where families are concerned about their accommodation they can make contact with our housing and welfare service who will ensure that their case is fully investigated and advice and assistance will be offered as appropriate.

“Partner agencies such as the Refugee and Migrant Centre can also offer advice and support.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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