Family room booking cancelled as hotel is filled with Afghan refugees

Family complain after their Reading Festival room booking is cancelled as hotel is instead filled with migrants fleeing Afghanistan

  • Family heading to Reading Festival have complained that their hotel booking was unilaterally cancelled 
  • Mercure George Hotel in Reading is instead housing refugees fleeing Afghanistan for the Home Office
  • The four-star Tudor-style building in King Street is owned by hotel chain Accor and has 76 rooms

A family due to make their annual trip to Reading Festival have complained that their hotel booking was unilaterally cancelled with just a week’s notice after the Home Office took over the whole building to house refugees fleeing Afghanistan.

The unnamed family said they had booked two rooms at the Mercure George Hotel in King Street more than a year ago and had been due to travel down from Doncaster in Yorkshire on Saturday, August 29 for the music event when their stay was cancelled.

In an email sent to the family on Sunday, August 22, seen by BerkshireLive, the four-star hotel said: ‘We are sure you have been watching the recent turn of events with horror and disbelief and maybe have at times thought if there was some way to help them. 

‘As the scale of the crisis in Afghanistan grow, the Home Office are struggling with the number of refugees to re-home. They have started to reach out to local authorities to ask for help within their communities for housing.

‘We have been approached by the Home Office to house these people, after much deliberation we have agreed to house these people for the interim.

‘We have not taken this decision lightly and know the effect it has on you and your plans, however we feel it was the right decision to make in view of the humanitarian crisis facing these people.’

The Tudor-style Mercure owned by hotel chain Accor has 76 rooms. It is not known if other people due to stay there also had their bookings cancelled. It is also not known how many other hotels the Home Office has taken over to resettle Afghan refugees. 

The family had apparently booked two rooms at the Mercure George Hotel in King Street (pictured) a year ago and had been due to travel down from Doncaster on Saturday, August 29 for the music event when their stay was cancelled

A family heading to Reading Festival have complained that their hotel booking was unilaterally cancelled after the Home Office took over the building to house refugees fleeing Taliban-controlled Afghanistan (stock image of Reading Festival in 2019)

An RAF plane was filled to capacity with embassy staff, British nationals and any Afghans able to settle in the UK

Afghan refugees arrive at RAQF Brize Norton airbase in the UK early today after being evacuated from Afghanistan

Graph showing the number of people evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, by country as of August 23, 2021 at 1700 GMT

The Mercure hotel said in its email: ‘We have been looking forward to your stay at the Mercure George, however due to a turn in circumstances as advised above we have to request you to look to make some alternative arrangements.

‘We do hope and are sure that our guest – you – will help us support these people in these dire times and understand our dilemma.’  

The mother told BerkshireLive: ‘Experience says it’s impossible to get taxis when the festival is on, so one of us will have to not drink for the day and park in one of the local multi-storeys. It sounds incredibly privileged and makes me feel quite uncomfortable to complain about this.

‘I know what these people are going through is thousands of times worse than us losing our hotel booking. But at the same time, I feel the bookings should’ve been honoured. At this time of year, most of the people there would’ve been only there for this weekend.’

MailOnline has contacted Accor, the hotel and the Home Office for comment.

Evacuation flights out of Kabul have been stepped up on to a ‘war footing’ with time fast running out to rescue people as an August 31 deadline for all forces to be out of the country looms large.

The United States said some 16,000 people boarded mercy flights between Sunday morning and Monday afternoon while Britain managed to air-lift 2,000 in the last 24 hours.

NATO now puts the total number of people evacuated since the Taliban took power 10 days ago at 50,000, but that is still well short of the more-than 100,000 refugees that western nations had promised to take.

G7 leaders including Britain, France and Germany are set to pressure US President Joe Biden into extending the August 31 deadline today – though British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said he does not expect the date to budge. 

A member of the RAF escorts a group of children who arrived at Brize Norton airbase early on Tuesday morning

An elderly woman is helped across the tarmac at RAF Brize Norton today after arriving on a flight from Afghanistan

Diplomats insist that the situation on the ground has improved since the weekend with more people being allowed into the airport, but satellite images showed huge crowds continuing to mass  

Evacuations have been underway in Afghanistan since the Taliban took control of the country on August 13 after American troops were pulled from the country

Thousands of Afghans could be left behind in Kabul as ministers push to extend the deadline for the last British evacuation flight beyond Tuesday. Pictured: British citizens catching a flight earlier this week

‘I’m not prepared to prioritise pets over people’: Ben Wallace rebukes ‘confused’ Pen Farthing after former Royal Marine complained that charter flight to take his staff and rescue animals out of Kabul is being blocked 

Ben Wallace today rebuked a former Royal Marine for complaining that UK forces are blocking a charter flight from taking his staff and rescue dogs out of Kabul.

The Defence Secretary insisted he will not ‘prioritise pets over people’ after Paul Farthing – known as Pen – vented fury that he was being prevented from using the privately-funded plane.

The 52-year-old said he had been ‘left to fend for myself’ after organising the flight for his 25 Afghan staff as well as the charity’s dogs and cats. He announced the UK Government granted visas for all of his staff and their dependents.

But in a round of interviews a clearly frustrated Mr Wallace while Mr Farthing had done ‘amazing’ work, all the plane would achieve if it landed in Kabul was to ‘block the airfield’ and ‘sit there empty’.

‘There is a confusion, I am afraid some of the campaigners have latched on to the fact they have chartered a plane, as if this somehow is the magic wand,’ he said.

Jean-Yves le Drian, the French foreign minister, said his country would be forced to stop flights on Thursday this week if America sticks with the August 31 date – while Spain warned today that citizens will get left behind unless the deadline is extended.

He spoke as a NATO diplomat said flights are now being conducted on a ‘war footing’ amid a race to get everyone who has been promised sanctuary out of the country before the August 31 deadline elapses.

The diplomat said the situation at Kabul airport is calming down as Taliban guards allow more people into the airfield and some Afghans without travel paperwork head home – though images and footage from the ground today suggest many thousands are still crammed up against military checkpoints hoping for safe passage out.

Democratic U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, told reporters after a briefing on Afghanistan by intelligence officials that he did not believe the evacuation could be completed in the eight remaining days.

‘I think it’s possible but I think it’s very unlikely given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated,’ Schiff said.

A Taliban official said on Monday an extension would not be granted, though he said foreign forces had not sought one. Washington said negotiations were continuing.

Many Afghans fear reprisals and a return to a harsh version of Islamic law that the Taliban enforced while in power from 1996 to 2001, including repression of women.

And now the UN has raised fears of a famine awaiting even those who escape the worst effects of Taliban rule, with the region in a drought and aid shipments into the country halted.

Andrew Patterson, head of the World Food Programme, said that some 7,000 metric tonnes of food have been blocked from getting into the country after Kabul airport was closed to commercial flights.

‘We need another 54,000 metric tonnes of food to get the Afghan people through to the end of December. We could start running out of food by September,’ he warned.

‘Winter is coming. We are going into the lean season and many Afghan roads will be covered in snow. We need to get the food into our warehouses where it needs to be distributed.’

There have been isolated but numerous incidents of Taliban aggression and intolerance reported on social media, as well as reports of Taliban searches for old enemies, fanning those fears.

Australia evacuated more than 50 female Afghan Paralympians, athletes and their dependents after securing visas for them, the Australian Broadcasting Corp reported on Tuesday.

Leaders of the United States, Britain, Italy, France, Germany, Canada, and Japan who meet virtually later on Tuesday may use the possibility of unified official recognition, or renewed sanctions to push the Taliban to comply with pledges to respect women’s rights and international relations.

‘The G7 leaders will agree to coordinate on if, or when to recognise the Taliban,’ said one European diplomat. ‘And they will commit to continue to work closely together.’

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