Homes for Ukraine scheme
The 'Homes for Ukraine' scheme aimed to provide a much-needed route to safety for Ukrainian refugees. Tens of thousands registered interest to support the scheme within hours of its launch. This is one of just two routes into the UK for Ukrainians. The other one – the government's Ukraine Family Scheme – allows Ukrainians visa entry into the UK if they have family members who are British citizens; have permission to settle in the UK; or have refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK.
There have been multiple reports of significant problems with the way the scheme has been run. These range from lack of government support for refugees and those hosting them, to sexual harassment of refugees by their hosts. According to government figures, since February 2022, 1335 Ukrainian households have registered as homeless. These include 945 with children. This situation is likely to worsen since many hosts are reported not to be renewing their involvement in the scheme beyond the six-month period that they signed up for. With the UK's cost of living crisis showing no signs of abating, it is feared that large numbers of hosts will feel they have no other option than to withdraw from the scheme at the end of six months. Some 50,000 Ukrainians are now said to be at risk of homelessness in 2023.
The scheme also ignores the plight of migrants from other countries and conflicts. For example, in August 2022 it was reported that 9,500 Afghans were still living in hotel accommodation in the UK a year after having arrived in the wake of the Taliban take-over of their country.
- Individuals and organisations interested in hosting but who don't have existing connections with Ukrainians can register their interest on the government website.
- The government has partnered with RESET Communities and Refugees to provide a 'matching and training service' for sponsors and refugees. Information is available on the RESET website.
- The Church of England and Church of Scotland have also produced useful lists of questions to consider before making a commitment to sponsorship.
- Since the Homes for Ukraine scheme was set up, some refugee charities have expressed concern that a number of Facebook groups and other 'matching' sites have sprung up without sufficient safeguarding and oversight arrangements. It's important to look carefully at any organisation offering matching services to satisfy yourself that these are in place. BYM strongly recommends using the government/RESET scheme or another established refugee support organisation.
What's the Quaker view?
There are a range of Quakers opinions about whether or not to join in with the scheme. Individual Friends and Quaker communities may be led to act in different ways. The Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network is compiling different Friends' views on its website.
It is vital that anyone fleeing conflict should be offered protection, regardless of nationality. Quakers have long called for a transformation of the UK immigration system. It should not be based on a culture of disbelief, but founded on compassion and practical response.
Across Britain there are around 100 Quaker Sanctuary Meetings. These meetings work to build a culture of welcome. They offer support and solidarity to migrant and refugee communities in their local area.
Quakers in Britain staff are planning networking meetings for Quaker communities and individuals working with people who have experienced forced migration, asylum seekers and refugees. If you would be interested in attending these contact firstname.lastname@example.org so we can let you have the details once they are confirmed.
An unjust migration system
The Ukraine crisis highlights (yet again) the need for a just migration system. However, the UK government went ahead with the Nationality and Borders Bill which became law in April 2022.
Among other things, the bill:
- criminalises and punishes vulnerable people who have little choice but to arrive in the UK though 'irregular routes'
- gives the government power to send asylum seekers to offshore detention facilities
- makes it more difficult for people to claim refugee status
This law makes it harder for people fleeing conflict and persecution to find sanctuary in Britain. Many of its statutes also undermine the UK's international legal obligations under the United Nations Refugee Convention (offsite link).
We must do all we can to support Ukrainian refugees seeking sanctuary in Britain. But we must also remember the bigger picture. We must also continue to call for a just migration system for all.
What can we do?
Most refugees are staying in neighbouring countries, some of whose support systems are under severe strain. A cash donation to humanitarian organisations such as the Disasters Emergency Committee (offsite link), is one of the most effective ways of getting help to where it is most needed.
Contact your local migrant support group
Refugee and migrant support organisations and local authorities are helping Ukrainian refugees, alongside their ongoing work of supporting other vulnerable migrants. Get in touch with your local group to find out about the specific needs in your area.
Contact your MP
Ask for accessible resettlement systems for people from Ukraine and all others fleeing war.
Find a Sanctuary Meeting near you
Use our online map and directory.
Let us know what you're doing
We are keen to hear from Sanctuary Meetings or other Quaker meetings working to support Ukrainian refugees or on wider issues of migration justice. Please contact email@example.com.