This is what refugee “hosting” looks like

5 April 2022

Jo Haythorthwaite, a retired Librarian from Glasgow, has hosted around thirteen 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 over the years. In fact, Jo was amongst the first to offer to take some one in when we first started Room for Refugees in 2002.

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 relationship ends. Its done privately, in an atmosphere of respect, stability and peace.

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 new innovation they came up with. Like celebrating the opening of a new food bank.

We are mindful that the majority of the world's refugees are hosted in the middle east, South and Central Asia and Eastern European countries. The West hosts a tiny fraction of displaced people, and is responsible for around 40% of displacement. 

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 it began in 2015, at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis. And thousands of Afghans are left to languish in cramped hotel rooms, unable to settle. And 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 while an individual or family resolves their status. 

It is not about a media frenzy, breakfast television appearances, financial incentive or forcing hosts and guests to tolerate each other for six months. It is not about mass registers gathering your personal data. It is not about finding refugees on questionable social media pages with no concept of risk or safeguarding.  No wonder Europol issued an early action notification a mere six days after Homes for Ukraine was launched. Criminal gangs and traffickers of sex, labour and organ harvesting get their intelligence from these pages. It is not about an individual advertising themselves to get shelter. And what happens after six months of a paid placement? If people arrive here in any sizeable numbers, there will be an explosion in homelessness as Ukrainians become yet another layer in the UK's refugee housing crisis.

So take a look again at the picture above. Its a picture we won't be departing from as we right now help over 700 Ukrainian families find sponsors and safe passage to the UK and Ireland, facilitating flights to help the most vulnerable reach a place of safety. Refugee hosting doesn't belong with a government department using it as a smokescreen for keeping war refugees out. It belongs to the charity sector across the UK who know about developing projects based on vocation, dignity and humanity. 

Robina Qureshi

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