02 May 2022
The scenes we are continuing to see unfold in Ukraine are deeply shocking. We’ve seen thousands of members of the public make incredibly generous offers to open up their homes through the Homes for Ukraine scheme. But at the same time, as it asks the general public to step up, the UK government is stepping back from its moral and legal obligations to support people arriving in the UK correctly.
The Homes for Ukraine scheme requires Ukrainians to be matched with private sponsors before they are allowed to travel here. The Scottish Government’s ‘super sponsor’ scheme will act as the sponsor for 3,000 Ukrainians initially, removing the requirement for the public to name an individual they wish to house. Through the scheme, people will be provided with initial temporary accommodation before moving on to longer-term housing, drawing on the offers from the Scottish public.
We believe this is a more rational and streamlined approach as responsibility for showing people from Ukraine a warm welcome cannot rest solely on members of the public who are offering accommodation. Undoubtedly, we will see private sponsorship offers that fail in the long term or families unable to accommodate their loved ones they are so desperate to bring to safety. But warm welcome Scotland wants to show people is still dependent on Home Office bureaucracy to arrange visas. We’re sadly hearing several reports of visas being processed incredibly slowly. This sluggish and meagre response isn’t fit for a crisis of this magnitude.
Ireland moved quickly to bring in a visa waiver for people from Ukraine, allowing them to reach safety first and think about paperwork later, a welcome any of us would surely hope to be met with if forced to flee our homes. The EU also voted to adopt a temporary protection directive allowing Ukrainians to live and work in any EU state visa-free for three years. In continuing to require visas, the UK is not only an international outlier. Still, it is slowing down the process of reaching safety for people who are only looking to rebuild their lives. This is nothing short of shameful.
When families are fleeing, there’s simply no time to stop applying for a visa. This is the reality which the UN Refugee Convention was set up to recognise. It’s unconscionable that the UK government is choosing this moment in history to tear up its compliance with this incredibly important piece of international law by pushing its Nationality & Borders Bill through parliament. This bill would make it a crime for
somebody fleeing Ukraine, Afghanistan or any conflict worldwide to reach the UK off their own back to claim asylum.
We are deeply worried that the UK Government is moving towards a patchwork of international protections, formed of a few targeted schemes to bring people to safety. But the reality is that people will always fall through the seams of these schemes. This is why the universal right to protection is so precious and why it must be defended vigorously.
This is what refugee hosting looks like. Robina Qureshi of Positive Action in Housing reflects on what ‘hosting’ means now that it plays an essential part in helping Ukrainian refugees.
Jo Haythorthwaite, a retired Glasgow librarian, has hosted around 13 guests through Positive Action in Housing’s Room for Refugees Network. Here she is pictured with some of the people who have stayed with her. We find it humbling and inspiring when someone agrees to accept a guest into their home. We have seen rich; warm relationships develop that endure on an equal footing, with love and warmth and memories, years after the hosting ends.
At the same time, this is very much a response to failure. Government failure. So it is jarring when we see the Minister for Levelling Up celebrating this as some wonderful innovation they came up with. Like celebrating the opening of a new food bank.
The reason people took refugees into their homes is because of government policy which made refugees destitute. Child refugees continue to drown in the Aegean sea. Hundreds of thousands of people are left to freeze in refugee camps in Europe. The Aegean Boat report has reported thousands of human rights abuses since 2015, at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis. And thousands of Afghans are left to languish in cramped hotel rooms. Before that, several thousand refugees were crowded into hotels throughout the pandemic and are now moved between hotels, and different countries, at whim.
The hosting model of Room for Refugees and other hosting networks run by charities up and down the country is grounded in providing shelter for free. At the same time, an individual or family resolves their status.
It is not about a media frenzy, breakfast television appearances, financial incentives or forcing hosts and guests to tolerate each other for six months. It is not about mass registers gathering your data, and it is not about finding refugees on questionable social media pages with no concept of risk or safeguarding.
Criminal gangs and traffickers of sex, labour and organ harvesting get their intelligence from these pages. It is not about individuals advertising themselves to get shelter.
So retake a look at the picture. Refugee hosting doesn’t belong with a government department using it as a smokescreen for keeping war refugees out. It belongs to the UK charity sector and knows about developing projects based on vocation, dignity and humanity.