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UNHCR urges UK government to increase safeguards to prevent Homes for Ukraine scheme abuse

Rally in support of Ukraine at Trafalgar Square in London, 20th March /
© Ivan Bandura

The UN refugee agency urged the UK government this week to intervene in the Homes for Ukraine scheme following reports it received of abuse. The agency also raised concerns about sexual exploitation of refugees, also linking single British men who are connected with lone Ukrainian women as a safety concern.

Following allegations that the Homes for Ukraine scheme is being used in certain circumstances to abuse vulnerable refugees, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urged a more appropriate matching process for families or individuals being relocated to the UK.

With reference to the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship initiative, UNHCR revealed this week that it had received specific complaints of Ukrainian women feeling threatened by their UK sponsors. UNHCR went further to emphasise its desire for enhanced protection and vetting procedures to prevent exploitation, as well as adequate assistance for sponsors. The UNHCR suggested that the matching process could be implemented by pairing women and women with children with families or couples rather than single men. Matching without sufficient control has been seen as a risk factor, in particular for women, adding to the stress of displacement, family separation, and assault according to the agency.

Under the government’s Homes for Ukraine program, British hosts are asked to interact with Ukrainian refugees directly, where tens of thousands of Ukrainians are connected through currently unregulated social media groups.

UNHCR also said that UK hosts could become a potential threat to a refugee’s safety, and that more checks and coordination between councils during the vetting process could reduce the risk of abuse.

In the midst of Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, there has been a public backlash over the slow rollout of visas for Ukrainian refugees, however the government is addressing its response and its Homes for Ukraine scheme has been widely praised, with strong public support.