Michael Gove’s Homes for Ukraine is a Human Traffickers Charter

28 March 2022

Michael Gove’s Homes for Ukraine Scheme has driven tens of thousands of people onto Facebook where “sponsors” and refugees search for each other, sharing personal information. But Europol has issued an early notification warning advising of the dangers of people trafficking for sex, Labour and organs.

With more than one million children reported to have left Ukraine amidst the war, unaccompanied minors arriving in the EU are particularly at risk. Women and children including unaccompanied minors are most at risk for sexual and labour exploitation as well as forced criminality and begging, or other criminal activities. The areas of most concern are the border areas, the reception and accommodation centres as well as public transport hubs such as train and bus stations.  Europol 's latest Early Action Notification dated march 24 has advised countries receiving refugees from Ukraine to remain alert for indications or attempts to recruit potential victims of trafficking in human beings. 

In the past ten days, over 500 Ukrainian families or young people have contacted us for help with visas and host-sponsors. The numbers of Ukrainian children and young people who have contacted us seeking to travel alone to the UK is alarming and unprecedented. In this refugee crisis, most of the people fleeing Ukraine are women, children and vulnerable persons, who are the ideal potential victims for criminal networks engaging in trafficking in human beings. Human traffickers thrive on refugee conflicts and displacements anytime there are vulnerable populations on the move. This is their "high season". The recent Europol Early Warning Notification from March 24 has pointed to the use of social media groups (set up by volunteers) where individual requests and offers for support are posted are ideal sources of information for criminal groups. These social media platforms often contain detailed information about refugees and their children. Criminals can easily use these platforms to identify and contact potential victims. Another risk is that criminals are present themselves in reception and accommodation centres as volunteers.

We have assisted Ukrainians to use the community sponsorship route by providing advice, information and providing host-sponsors that are safe. However, for Ukrainians living in war zones this is unviable because Ukrainians are risking their lives waiting for U.K. visas and sponsors through our hosting programme. Women, children  and young people also risk being trafficked. 

Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations, told members of the the public to find refugees, so people have turned to social media. Ukrainians heard about the UK scheme and have taken up offers of homes on social media. Children as young as 14 are linking up with so called “sponsors” on Facebook. The Homes for Ukraine programme , executed with zero consultation with NGOs, is fast turning into a human traffickers charter. It is resulting  in obvious and dangerous breaches of basic safeguarding on an industrial scale. It is a dangerous cover for obvious flaws - these are refugees - not tourists seeking holiday visas. 

We urge you to write directly to Michael Gove, email and and copy us in: . Write also to your MP using .  Demand that Ukrainians should not be forced to wait for visas in a warzones then turn to social media for sponsors, where human trafficking is right now flourishing. Why should people fleeing war be subjected to this?  Waiting in a war zone and risking the dangers of social media because the UK government has said you need a sponsor is not a humanitarian gesture, it is placing vulnerable, desperate people, especially women and children, in direct danger. Call on Mr Gove to recognise the inherent dangers of the Homes for Ukraine scheme, and lift visa restrictions and sponsorship requirements now, just like the rest of Europe, so that Ukrainians needing to leave war zones can do so without looking for sponsors on social media. We have direct links with families  on the ground and the government should be liaising with NGOs like us to bring people safely to the UK instead of sharing personal details on social media. We can then assess people in-country and allocate them hosts from our extensive database instead of trying to help families in the middle of a war zone. Other countries all over Europe are engaged in helping in this refugee crisis, NGOs and Government working hand in hand to distribute aid and assess people in need. Therefore why cant we?

Robina Qureshi

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