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Ukraine Refugee Matching Groups Warn Pool Of UK Hosts Has Plummeted

The number of UK hosts offering to take in Ukrainian refugees has fallen

7 min read

A number of large groups responsible for matching UK hosts with Ukrainian refugees have closed applications as they warned the pool of available hosts was almost depleted.

The government has been criticised for not doing enough to help match refugee families with UK hosts despite the ongoing war in Ukraine, which has claimed the lives of thousands of civilians. While a significant number of people registered to offer homes to refugees, the vast government database has not been used to directly match prospective hosts with Ukrainians wishing to settle in the UK. 

Much of the UK's hosting efforts have been co-ordinated through charities and ad-hoc Facebook groups who have guided UK hosts and refugees through the complex visa process since the scheme launched earlier this year.

Over 250,000 households registered their interest in becoming hosts under the government's Homes for Ukraine scheme, which offers refugees from Ukraine visas to enter the country, as well as access to public services and school places. Host families receive a monthly cash payment to cover expenses. It was set up by the Home Office in collaboration with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

The government announced earlier this week that over 100,000 individual Ukrainian refugees have now arrived in the UK since Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, but there is no clear figure on exactly how many host households have welcomed Ukrainian refugees. 

A significant number of refugees are still attempting to leave Ukraine, with many making efforts to reach the UK through the scheme. But organisers of some of the largest matching groups – who have helped facilitate thousands of matches – have told PoliticsHome they have been forced to stop accepting requests from vulnerable refugees because the number of willing hosts has been depleted.

They criticised the government for failing to take further steps to help produce matches, despite the vast number of people expressing their interest in the scheme when it first launched in the spring.

Ministers have repeatedly boasted of the number of people who signed up for the flagship scheme in the opening months, but PoliticsHome understands the data has not been used to directly match any UK hosts with fleeing refugees.

Instead, the vast database has been passed on to local authorities to help co-ordinate security and property checks of those who have proactively found matches through other services, or could be used to find new sponsors for Ukrainian families who have seen their relationship with their original sponsors breakdown.

Sue Clifford, who runs a Facebook group responsible for thousand of matches, told members in mid-July that the group was no longer accepting posts from desperate refugees because of the lack of available accommodation in the UK.

"After much deliberation and heart searching we have decided to change things with our group," she wrote.

"There is no accommodation left so we have decided that we are going to stop posts asking for help to find accommodation."

Clifford told PoliticsHome that individuals had been left "stepping up to the mark" to help manage the scheme. 

"No experience, no emotional capability to deal with all this but the charities are overwhelmed, so onwards we go," she said. 

"It used to make me cry every day, but now I just feel numb.

"Anyone who wants to host is already doing so. The Ukrainian situation is no longer front page news although it should be."

Official government figures show the number of visa applications from Ukrainians eligible for the scheme dropped sharply in June.

Clifford added: "Still we continue to do what we can, picking up the pieces of this broken system, finding replacement accommodation even though we know there is so little available."

"I'm not sure how this process could actually have been any worse than it was. Leaving vulnerable women and children often in serious danger in Ukraine and often in danger in a strange country. The process or the people running it had no consideration of the lives lost waiting for the decision."And Chris Turner, who helped set up a matching service with Ukrainian students at Durham University, said they were also struggling to find new hosts.

"Four months ago, I met a Ukrainian student at Durham University, and since then we have been supporting Ukrainian families find UK hosts," Turner wrote in a Facebook group facilitating matches. 

"By the use of video calls, interpreters, assistance with the application process and online English lessons even before families arrived, we have supported my successful resettlements.

"Unfortunately, the requests for accommodation are now far greater than the available hosts."

Speaking to PoliticsHome, he described the scheme as a "deliberate failure" for failing to create more matches.

"The statistics tells the story," he said. "Over 250,000 homes registered for the Homes for Ukraine scheme, so assuming two people per house it could have been 500,000 [refugees settled in the UK] and yet only 100,000 have arrived.

"It is a deliberate failure by the UK government with many applicants waiting two months to obtain a visa and many hosts and applicants are giving up."

There has also been criticism over communication around the scheme. Many host applicants had expected a call from the service offering them a match, whereas in reality it has relied on refugees and hosts proactively sourcing their own matches before the claim is processed by officials. 

"Several hosts have told me they signed up in March or April and expected to be contacted, but haven't heard from anyone for months," Maria Antonova, who helps run the UKWelcomesUkraine group told PoliticsHome

"I don't know how many are still sitting in a government list somewhere, waiting. We don't have access to these sponsors, we can only work with the ones that signed up with us."

Matt, who signed up to become a host via the scheme on the day it opened, added: "There has been no communication apart from a confirmation email. We started getting our home ready because we expected that given the size of the crisis it wouldn't be long before we were matched.

"It wasn't until we contacted the council to find out what else we needed to do that we found out we'd essentially signed up to a glorified mailing list."

He added: "There must be tens of thousands of people who offered to open their homes up to a refugee by signing up to the scheme, and the government have just sat on that information. Those MPs were all harping on about how brilliant their scheme was, and the generosity of the British public, but they've done absolutely nothing with that information to help match people. It's very odd."

Another early host applicant said they had been sent one follow up email on whether they would be accepting to host a family with pets, but were never informed they were expected to proactively find their own refugee family.

"[It's] disgraceful. Why didn't they explain this at the start, because we were waiting for months for hear back from them about a match and nothing ever came," they said.

"I'm furious about it because we see all these horrific scenes on our TV and we were sitting there thinking: 'Well we have done our bit', but it seems we had no chance of ever being offered the chance to help a family."

Lisa Nandy, shadow secretary for housing and communities, told PoliticsHome the government had "squandered" the goodwill of the British public.

"It was heart-warming to see such an outpouring of generosity from British people offering to open their homes to Ukrainians in need. It’s shameful that so much of that generosity has been squandered by the government’s mismanagement of its DIY scheme," she said.

"Five months after the war began, we’re still seeing a colossal waste of generous offers of help that could allow Ukrainians to come to safety, all because ministers have clocked off and chosen to put the Tory leadership race ahead of doing their jobs."

A government spokesperson said: "We are proud that more than 100,000 people from Ukraine have arrived via our uncapped visa schemes – highlighting the immense generosity of the British public.

"We continue to work closely with experienced organisations, such as RESET, which have the skills and knowledge of people’s needs to be able to find the most appropriate matches."

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