The flawed Homes for Ukraine scheme highlights why the UK's chaotic asylum system is unsustainable
The public response to the conflict in Ukraine has been one of compassion, reflecting a sense of duty to help those fleeing the conflict.
After mounting criticisms of the government’s initial sluggish and lacklustre humanitarian response to the crisis, last week Michael Gove announced a new Homes for Ukraine refugee sponsorship scheme aimed at capitalising on this public outpouring of kindness.
Since the announcement, the response has been immense, with over 100,000 members of the public signing up to open their homes to refugees. But regrettably, this scheme currently does not live up to the standards of refugee protection we should expect amid this rapidly unfolding humanitarian crisis.
While on the face of it the number of sign-ups may suggest the scheme is a success, many expected to deliver it are flagging serious concerns that this untested approach could lead to a whole host of new problems.
Different routes discriminate against refugees depending on where they have come from
In essence, the scheme heavily relies on the good will of charities and civil society to match sponsors who have accommodation with Ukrainian refugees. Yet, there is a lack of clarity over the type of role or responsibilities charities will have in the matching process and confusion over whether there will be financial support for those organisations taking on this crucial task.
Concerns have also been raised about the practical aspects of the scheme. For example, sponsors are expected to provide suitable accommodation for a minimum of six months, rather than 24 months as under the previous community sponsorship scheme. But it is not clear what happens after this six-month point, particularly where refugees have not been able to find alternative arrangements for their accommodation.
In order to streamline the scheme, security checks for sponsors have also been minimised. This has raised concerns about safeguarding, especially given that many refugees will require specific support because of the trauma they may have experienced from leaving their homes to rebuild their lives in another country. The government’s approach to creating this emergency pathway for Ukrainian refugees must not come at the cost of their safety and wellbeing.
Ultimately, it is only fair that a scheme which is dependent on civil society organisations takes account of their concerns. The government will heavily rely on charities’ specialist expertise of working on the frontline, in communities, with those who have fled conflict and persecution and who sometimes have complex needs that require trauma-informed support. The Homes for Ukrainians scheme has shown ambition, but this significant ask from charities needs to be backed by financial support.
The flaws in this scheme are indicative of the UK’s messy and deeply unfair asylum system, which is now cluttered with “bespoke” routes for refugees fleeing different conflicts. The differential treatment of refugees on each of these schemes has not gone unnoticed. These different routes discriminate against refugees depending on where they have come from.
A piecemeal, unequal, and chaotic approach to humanitarian crises is not sustainable. It’s time for the government to start living up to the humanitarian spirit shown by the public and deliver a coordinated and fairly funded asylum and refugee system for everyone fleeing war and persecution, no matter how they enter the country.
Amreen Qureshi is a migration, trade and communities researcher at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).
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