500 days since the Homes for Ukraine scheme

27 July 2023

Today marks 500 days since the UK launched its Homes for Ukraine scheme. So how’s it gone so far? Has the scheme been a success?  Should the UK government be doing more to help Ukrainian refugees? Should a similar system be created to help refugees from other countries?

It would not be right to explore the Home Office's response to the Ukraine war without considering its failure to respond with similar humanity to war refugees from the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.

The Homes for Ukraine scheme has provided a safe route and resettlement for Ukrainian residents. The concept of refugee hosting is now in the mainstream.

The scheme allows families and individuals to freely travel through multiple safe countries to get to the UK and to work, rent, have bank accounts and apply for benefits. They have been provided shelter in people's homes, social housing and private tenancies. They have been welcomed into our communities.

In the last 500 days, Positive Action in Housing's Room for Refugees has arranged over 600 placements in the  homes of our volunteer hosts as part of our Room for Refugees programme. A massive volunteer movement has been mobilised to support Ukrainians.

By enforcing a visa scheme, the Home Office has succeeded in keeping the numbers of Ukrainians coming here lower than European or Scandinavian countries. The visa scheme favours the educated, the professionals with digital technology who know the English language and the visa process. A safe route for Ukrainians - and for their dogs and cats too.  Those more likely to be held back were families with children and older relatives, the elderly, the disabled and unaccompanied minors. 

Because the Homes for Ukraine programme exists, not a single Ukrainian war refugee has been left so desperate that they would be forced to pay thousands of pounds to people smugglers and put their family into a small boat in order to reach safety in the UK. 

The Home Office has deliberately and proactively failed to respond with humanity to the refugee men, women and children from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Yemen. They have no such safe passage. Volunteers who try to rescue lives are criminalised. Asylum seekers are forced to take small boats, at risk of drowning or being sent to Rwanda. They are forbidden to work or claim benefits, or rent accommodation. With increased pressure on housing, non-Ukrainian refugees are being diverted into run-down hotels, barracks or derelict barges. They are isolated from the local community and have become easy targets for far-right groups. They are subjected to constant vilification for seeking asylum here.

Thousands of Afghans are being evicted from hotels. Those who get leave to remain are being effectively dumped into slum hotels and temporary accommodation with no forward plan in place.

Asylum decisions can take years to process as it. The Home Office has now diverted its staff away from asylum decision-making to decisions about Rwanda removals.

Other than those from specific schemes, eg Ukraine or Hong Kong or workers seeking visas from India, the government continues to block safe passage to war refugees. This has provided a market for people smugglers. Black, brown, and non-European refugees risk being sent to Rwanda under the new asylum act. 

The Home Office states that it costs £6M a day to house asylum seekers in hotels. However, the Department does not broadcast how much it is spending on the Homes for Ukraine programme. 

Billions of pounds of taxes has been lost because the Home Office forbids asylum seekers to work while keeping them waiting for years and dependent on sub-contractors with lucrative accommodation contracts. These contractors routinely use hotels to shift humans around the country at a whim. We have seen cases where someone seeking asylum is living in a flat that has a problem with repairs, and that person or family has been moved from Glasgow to York for days or weeks

A two-tier discriminatory asylum system is evidently in operation.

The Prime minister and the Home Secretary are willing to burn international human rights obligations to pursue dog whistle politics. Tragic that they began their ministerial careers promoting their immigrant back stories  yet have done everything possible to demonise those of immigrant stock while ramping up nhs premiums and immigration fees to exorbitant levels.

So let's call this what it is. Homes for Ukrainians is a safe route for Ukrainians fleeing war. And for all other refugees fleeing war, there is no equivalent "Homes for Refugees". Those who arrive by boat risk being left to drown or sent to Rwanda. 

Robina Qureshi, CEO

Positive Action in Housing


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