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Homes for Ukrainian scheme commended in new report

17 March 2023


A young protester, Zack, takes part in a pro-refugee rally in Parliament Square, London, on Monday

A young protester, Zack, takes part in a pro-refugee rally in Parliament Square, London, on Monday

THE Homes for Ukraine scheme (HFU), launched just 18 days after the invasion in 2022, is held up as a model of best practice in the resettlement of refugees, by a report, Wave of Compassion, written by Dr Krish Kandiah. It was published by the Sanctuary Foundation on Monday.

“There is much to be gleaned here for future crisis response initiatives,” it says, describing HFU as “a game changer in global refugee response” which had helped to resettle more than 165,700 Ukrainians to date. The majority have been hosted by private citizens.

“The scheme simultaneously recognises and highlights the enormous benefits of integrating the support offered by the state, with the support British citizens wish to volunteer” — a collaborative approach reported to have saved taxpayers more than £4.4 billion, it says.

The speed and scale of the visa rollout is highly commended. A programme overseen by the UK Visas and Immigration department in the Home Office initially took five weeks from application to approval, but, at its height, was able to turn a basic visa around in 48 hours.

This was due in large part, the report says, to “a surge of capacity in the Home Office and a willingness to rethink and innovate on existing practices”. In contrast, the process for Syrian-refugee sponsorship took between 12 and 18 months.

UK-based hosts were encouraged to match themselves with named Ukrainians if they were able to offer accommodation for at least six months. They were offered a thank-you payment by the Government, provided they met the welfare and safety checks carried out by their local council. The offer was subsequently extended and increased in the light of difficulties in finding ongoing housing.

Ukrainians arriving under the scheme were granted three years’ leave to remain, and were given permission to work and study, and access to benefits, health care, and other public services. “The scheme has mobilised unprecedented numbers of people to respond with compassion and hospitality,” the report says.

Most had no involvement with refugees before, it emphasises.

The Foundation surveyed about 2000 Ukrainians currently living in the UK. It found the hosting scheme to have been overwhelmingly positive for the refugees; 99 per cent were grateful to be in the UK and an average score of 9.4 out of ten for the warmth of the welcome that they had received. More than three-quarters said that it had been easy to get their children a school place, and that the school had helped their children to adjust.

The part played by communities in welcoming refugees is regarded as fundamental: HFU had built on the strengths of the UK’s existing community-sponsorship programmes. “As Ukrainians are being housed in people’s homes, they’ve been able to forge strong friendships with local people and quickly found champions, guides, and supporters,” it says. Living in homes had accelerated both language-learning and cultural understanding.

The shared experience of refugees and hosts living together has also led to the establishment of Ukrainian hubs that have instigated collective support and action: “A tangible structure that attracts larger scale donations and support of local businesses and charities.”

These often supplemented the work of local councils in taking on the matching services to find refugees other accommodation; getting involved in the safeguarding issues at the hosts’ request; and providing focused services for young children.

The report acknowledges that the decision to empower civil society to conduct the matching between sponsors and guests was “initially met with fear and scepticism”, and that a minority were matched with unsuitable hosts or affected by exploitation and abuse. These had quickly been rehoused. The choice to allow informal matching, mostly by social media, had insured that the scheme took off very quickly and gathered momentum.

It contrasts HFU with the resettlement scheme for Afghan refugees, which used about 80 bridging hotels to accommodate some 10,000 refugees. “This is proving not only unhelpful in welcoming and supporting the families, but prohibitively expensive,” the report says.

“It has also led to traumatised families stuck in hotels for over 18 months, unable to settle in work, school and communities. Many of the families have not developed in their language skills or their ability to work. Many [are] socially isolated and are at risk of becoming institutionalised.”

Relative to the Afghan resettlement scheme, costing about £438 million a year, or about £1.2 million a day, HFU is deemed far better value for money. A conservative estimate puts it at £500 a month per refugee with the current thank-you payments to hosts. It is deemed to have produced better outcomes in closer integration with British families and communities.

The report praises the good collaboration between civil society and government. It identifies among the financial challenges the “triple whammy of the ongoing conflict, the cost-of-living crisis, and limited local Housing Authority capacity”, acknowledging “a significant risk of the hosting scheme not being sustainable”.

It praises the contribution of businesses such as NatWest, which, it says, rolled out a multi-level response which included supporting their stuff to sponsor by offering additional paid holiday days. Of the long-term housing challenges, it notes, “The lack of available social housing and affordable private rental properties has caused many hosts and guests to reach out to the government and ask for urgent help with issues preventing refugees securing appropriate accommodation.

“In recognition of these challenges HM Government has announced £150 million UK-wide funding to help support Ukrainian guests move into their own homes and reduce the risk of homelessness, as well as a £500 million local authority housing fund. This is yet to translate into widespread alleviation of the housing challenges.”

The report addresses challenges of support, mental health, and psychological trauma. It identifies language support as one of the key requests. The “noticeable absence from either central or local government of any forms of support for the community groups that work hard to support refugees and hosts . . . could be easily rectified,” it suggests.

It recommends prioritising welcome, welfare, work, and worthwhile housing, and urges: “This method of refugee hosting has been more successful and cost effective than any method used in the past 50 years. The institutional knowledge used to construct the programme should not be lost.”

Dr Kandiah, the founder of the Sanctuary Foundation, has been involved in refugee support since the height of the Kosovan crisis in 1999. A foster carer and Homes for Ukraine host, he was appointed OBE for services to refugee integration in the King’s New Year Honours list (News, 6 January).

“We can overcome hostility with hospitality, and a war with a wave of compassion,” he said.

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