Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees removed from UK’s ‘unsuitable’ housing sponsors

8 May 2022

Homes for Ukraine scheme 'unravelling' as government seeks new accommodation for 600 people at risk of being exploited by hosts Russia-Ukraine war - latest updates

The government is scrambling to rehouse hundreds of Ukrainians granted visas  under the Homes for Ukraine scheme because the people they were supposed to stay with have been deemed "unsuitable", the Observer can reveal.

Refugee charities have warned since the scheme's launch that with most of the refugees being women and children, and many matches made on social media websites such as Facebook, the scheme risked being targeted by predatory men.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), which runs the scheme, has insisted that no visa is issued until the Home Office has completed checks on every adult in a sponsor household.

However, a source with links to the DLUHC told the Observer that the department is "looking for bridging accommodation for a group of 600 refugees who have come to the UK, but the people they have come to stay with have been found to be unsuitable". This included sponsors with a criminal record.

The refugees have been placed in hotels as an emergency option, the source said, but ministers are looking for better options, including university student accommodation, until they are matched with new families.

A second source, who also spoke to the Observer on condition of anonymity, said: "These 600 Ukrainian refugees had been granted visas, but their sponsors were found to be unsuitable either because they had a criminal record or for some other reason."

Robina Qureshi, director of Positive Action in Housing , a charity that set up the UK's first refugee hosting programme and is matching 1,000 Ukrainians with families across the UK , said it was no surprise that the government's scheme had "unravelled so quickly".

"It's a free-for-all matching system," she said. "We don't agree with social media as a tool for meeting vulnerable people like this."

Qureshi is concerned that a predatory single man  who is only interested in hosting a young, single Ukrainian woman would not be caught out by DBS checks. She said: "Refugees have been led along by people saying they are registered for Homes for Ukraine, which sounds like some official guarantee when that isn't the case."

Yvonne Kachikoti, head of resettlement and integration services at charity Refugee Action, said: "The government's reckless and unregulated approach to matching has put vulnerable refugees at considerable risk of ending up in the homes of people planning to exploit them."

She added: "Already traumatised families forced to leave their Homes for Ukraine host after a nasty experience are unlikely to want to be rematched with another sponsor."

The Local Government Association says it has been flagging up the "inevitability" of some unsuitable accommodation being offered since the start of the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

Its chair, councillor James Jamieson, said: "We are asking the government to give us information on sponsors prior to matching, so we can get ahead of the game in making checks."

He said councils had been getting more advance information in the past 10 days, but it was "still far short of what we would like".

He stressed that the Home Office was responsible for checking if hosts have criminal records before a visa is granted. He added: "There is no check on accommodation before that, no local police check, and no local knowledge applied to people."

A government spokesperson said: "Homes for Ukraine has stringent safeguarding measures, and they are working. All potential sponsors and adults living in the household are subject to security checks, including criminal records, before visas are approved to allow applicants to travel to the UK. Councils also conduct further checks on the sponsor and their household as quickly as possible once a visa application has been submitted.

"Local authorities will provide emergency accommodation to Ukrainians if necessary. This has not been required for the overwhelming majority of the 19,500 people who have arrived under the scheme so far."

As yet there is no system in place for universities to sponsor Ukrainian refugees. However, Universities UK, the vice-chancellors' group, said 20 universities have expressed interest.

Prof David Green, vice-chancellor of Worcester University, said: "We registered our accommodation on the Homes for Ukraine website in March. Sadly, we have no refugees with us, which is so frustrating. We remain extremely keen to do this and rooms could be made available immediately."

He said with many of the refugees being women and children, it was important they could offer 24-7 security, including police community support officers embedded at the university, as well as cooking and social facilities.

He added: "We want to make every contribution, however small, to help those who have been made into refugees by this cruel, illegal invasion, as well as to those who are bravely remaining to fight."

Reprinted from the Observer - By Anna Fazackerley

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