The government’s latest scheme to help Ukrainian refugees raises quite a number of concerns and even more questions. Yes, the UK needs to do something, but this really doesn’t seem like the answer based on the available information.
After calls for the UK to move quickly and waive visas it may seem strange to criticise the scheme. Waiving visas still, however, required that the government provide assistance and support for refugees. It was never about just saying “come in and sort yourselves out”.
The most significant risk is that increases the danger of refugees being exploited and even trafficked. We already see how a failure to provide proper specialist support puts children in particular at risk in hotels; this seems to multiply the issue.
Organisations which currently “match” refugees to potential homes, such as @RefugeesAtHome, conduct multiple checks. The speed and scale of this scheme means it is nigh on impossible to properly carry out those checks.
Support can be needed both ways as well though. I have no doubt that the vast majority of people planning to take in refugees do so for genuinely good reasons, but we are talking about traumatised individuals who may have highly complex needs.
Not only will they need specialist support to help with those needs, but host families may need support to be able to provide a supportive environment for them to remain. It takes more than a nice cup of tea to help people unfortunately.
There is also the long-term impact on refugee protection in the UK. As some have pointed out, this scheme goes further than the Refugee Convention requires states to do. That means very little if it leads to more refugees being denied rights.
It normalises “community sponsorship” and “family reunion”, because let’s be honest a lot of this scheme is going to be that, schemes, which. are. not. refugee. protection. They are the government asking the public and civil society to do its job for them.
When you put it into the context of the UK’S treatment of non-Ukrainian refugees at the present, and in particular the NationalityAndBordersBill, you can see how this can be used to undermine refugee rights and law.
It reinforces the government’s “two tier plan” by saying “these are good refugees. They come through kind government schemes. These are bad refugees because they had to risk their lives crossing the channel because there were no routes for them”.
It allows the government to absolve itself of responsibility to protect refugees. Quite noticeably the scheme is being run through Gove’s brand new “levelling up ministry” and not the Home Office for example. That should concern people. It normalises lack government of support.
All refugees need protection, and it is wonderful that Ukrainian refugees may receive some, but this is still a highly limited sponsorship scheme. As already said, sponsorship schemes historically don’t bring in many people.
Among other things, you are likely to see a huge amount of interest initially as everyone following the news rushes to help, which then drops off dramatically in a very short period, leaving many without access to the scheme.
And what does the government do? “Not our problem folks. We asked the British public to help and they didn’t. Can’t take anymore without that, sorry”. It shifts the blame for failing to provide protection onto the public and away from government.
We need proper protection frameworks in this country. We should have had them set up years ago. Afghanistan should have made sure they were in place. Ukraine should be seen as the final straw for getting them sorted, not an excuse for the government to cop out.
Without proper frameworks, specialist support, right to work for all refugees, faster processing time for asylum applications, the system remains broken, the government gets to blame everyone else and refugees are put at more risk, now and in the future.
It’s absolutely brilliant that there has been such a huge response from the British public to accommodate refugees, and it is truly disturbing that we are in a place where 44,000 could feasibly to do so without even being DBS checked.
Over a number of years the previous “community sponsorship scheme” took about 600 people, so you can’t even use that as a basis to argue what will or won’t happen with the government HomesForUkraine scheme. What you can do is look at the evidence and worry about safeguarding.
“Light touch” national approach in the immediacy means people are NOT being properly vetted before they take Ukrainian citizens into their homes. By only later on down the line having more detailed local authority checks you all but guarantee people slipping through the cracks.
Considering we are predominantly talking about women and children fleeing Ukraine the safeguarding needs increase dramatically, yet the government in its haste to make up lost time has dramatically decreased protections for them.
We have already seen with the cack-handed way in which the Afghan scheme was handled or not, more accurately: children disappearing from the hotels they were placed in and trafficked because they were placed outside of protection frameworks.
The HomesForUkraine scheme increases this risk by a number of magnitudes. It sidelines important local authority mechanisms and it puts vulnerable people not just in danger of not having their needs met, but also of being exploited and even trafficked.
The reality of this scheme, as announced by Michael Gove yesterday, is that, despite all the best intentions of the majority of people applying, it is something which a trafficker could only have previously dreamed of happening. The risks are substantial.
What was needed from start is rapid investment into local authority systems, immediate provision of right to work for all refugees and genuine safeguarding and protection measures. All of which would actually be faster as you can then waive visas and still guarantee support.
And here is an excellent piece by @maybulman highlighting some of the concerns regarding the scheme and why it could present a danger to vulnerable women and children.
Okay, muting this now because my mentions are a mess. If you are looking to find out more about the risks that not implementing proper safeguards present, particularly in relation to child trafficking, then I recommend following and supporting organisations such as @Love146UK