Refugee charities have warned that the UK government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme is beginning to unravel. It’s been claimed that the government is scrambling to rehouse hundreds of Ukrainian refugees granted UK visas because the people they were meant to be staying with have been dubbed unsuitable, according to a report published by The Observer.
Since the launch of the scheme, and with most of the refugees being mostly women and children, charities have warned that the scheme risks being targeted by predatory men – especially since many matches have taken place on social media sites such as Facebook.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), which is overseeing the Homes for Ukraine scheme, insists that no UK visa is issued to Ukrainian refugees ‘until the Home Office has completed all the necessary checks on every adult in a sponsor household’.
However, an inside source at the DLUHC told The Observer that the department is ‘seeking bridging accommodation for a group of at least 600 refugees who have arrived in the UK, but the people providing shelter have been found to be unsuitable’ – this reportedly includes sponsors with a criminal record.
As an emergency solution, the 600 refugees have currently been placed in hotels, according to the inside source. However, government ministers are understood to be looking for better solutions – including the use of university accommodation, until they are matched with new hosts.
Meanwhile, a second source who spoke to The Observer anonymously, said: “These 600 Ukrainian refugees had been granted UK visas, but their sponsors were found to be unsuitable either because they had a criminal record or for some other reason.”
No surprise scheme has unravelled
Robina Qureshi, the director of Positive Action in Housing – a charity that established the UK’s first refugee housing programme and is currently matching 1,000 Ukrainians with families across Britain – said that it was ‘no surprise that the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme had unravelled so quickly.’
She said: “It’s a free-for-all matching system. We don’t agree with social media as a tool for meeting vulnerable people like this.”
One of Ms Qureshi’s particular concerns is that a predatory single man who is only interested in hosting a young, single Ukrainian woman might not be caught by DBS checks. “Refugees have been led along by people saying they are registered for Homes for Ukraine, which sounds like some official guarantee when that isn’t the case,” Ms Qureshi said.
Head of resettlement and integration services at charity Refugee Action, Yvonne Kachikoti, said: “The government’s reckless and unregulated approach to matching has put vulnerable refugees at considerable risk of ending up in the homes of people planning to exploit them.”
“Already traumatised families forced to leave their Homes for Ukraine host after a nasty experience are unlikely to want to be rematched with another sponsor,” Ms Kachikoti added.
Inevitable some accommodation unsuitable
Meanwhile, the Local Government Association said that it has warned of the ‘inevitability’ of some unsuitable accommodation being offered since the Homes for Ukraine scheme began.
The Association’s chair, Councillor James Jamieson, said: “We are asking the government to give us information on sponsors prior to matching, so we can get ahead of the game in making checks.”
Jamieson did say that local councils are now receiving more information in advance in recent days, but added that it was still ‘far short of what he would like’.
Mr Jamieson stressed that the Home Office is responsible for checking whether hosts have a criminal record before a UK visa is granted. He said: “There is no check on accommodation before that, no local police check, and no local knowledge applied to people.”
A spokesperson for the government said: “Homes for Ukraine has stringent safeguarding measures, and they are working. All potential sponsors and adults living in the household are subject to security checks, including criminal records, before visas are approved to allow applicants to travel to the UK.”
“Councils also conduct further checks on the sponsor and their household as quickly as possible once a visa application has been submitted. Local authorities will provide emergency accommodation to Ukrainians if necessary. This has not been required for the overwhelming majority of the 19,500 people who have arrived under the scheme so far”, the spokesperson added.
No system for universities
As things stand, there is no system in place for UK universities to sponsor Ukrainian refugees. However, Universities UK has said that 20 universities have expressed an interest. The vice-chancellor of Worcester University, Professor David Green, said: “We registered our accommodation on the Homes for Ukraine website in March.”
“Sadly, we have no refugees with us, which is so frustrating. We remain extremely keen to do this and rooms could be made available immediately,” Prof. Green added.
The vice-chancellor for Worcester University went on to say that with so many of the refugees being women and children, it’s crucial that they have security 24-7, including police community support officers deployed across university campuses. Prof. Green added that they should have access to cooking and social facilities too.
“We want to make every contribution, however small, to help those who have been made into refugees by this cruel, illegal invasion, as well as to those who are bravely remaining to fight,” Prof. Green said.
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