Russia attempting to ‘weaponise’ Ukraine’s refugees says Hodges
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At the first anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s invasion, over eight million Ukrainian refugees remain dotted across Europe according to the UN. The British Government was quick to open the doors to those fleeing the war, but many families have been thrust into desperate situations since their arrival in the UK. Cracks in the system were visible early on, but homelessness pressures have only got worse over the past 12 months.
On February 24, 2022, the Russian military crossed Ukraine’s eastern borders en masse. Expecting Kyiv to fall within days, the conflict soon ground down into a destructive and total war.
Those who could not fight had no choice but to flee. The Home Office got emergency visa schemes up and running within two weeks. The British people stepped up – within a day, 100,000 people had expressed interest in hosting a refugee family, a tally that had doubled six months later.
As of February 14, 2023, Government records showed 218,500 visas had been issued and 162,700 holders had arrived in the country. The experience of Ukrainians in the UK has been a positive one in the majority of cases, but not for all.
The latest report from the Department for Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) shows that 4,295 Ukrainian households in England had been forced to turn to councils for homelessness prevention or relief by January 27, 2023.
With most of the men consigned to the battlefield in Ukraine, nearly all of them are women and children.
Six months ago – the other side of a winter in which the cost-of-living crisis saw inflation break four decades of record highs – the figure was almost three times lower. Of those households, 69 percent were households with dependent children.
Reporting to the Monitoring Ukrainian Homelessness Pressures survey isn’t mandatory, so true figures are likely even higher. Almost 30 percent of councils – 88 in total – did not submit data for this latest collection, according to the DLUHC.
The Refugee Council has been drawing attention to this issue throughout the year. Commenting on the latest figures, the organisation’s CEO Enver Solomon said: “It has been remarkable to see that so many Ukrainian refugees have been able to find safety in our country.
“The British people responded in line with British values by opening their homes to Ukrainians in their hour of need and giving them a warm welcome. But it is very worrying that an increasing number of Ukrainian refugees are now facing homelessness in the UK.
“These are people who have endured unimaginable trauma fleeing war in their homeland, and they must have a place to call home to help them heal and rebuild their lives. It’s vital that they are now supported to find their own homes in our local communities.”
READ MORE: Ukrainians in the UK facing homelessness as host families give up
Set up in early March last year, two routes under the Ukraine Humanitarian Schemes umbrella were opened up. The Ukraine Family Scheme allowed Ukrainian nationals with extended family in the UK to come and join them. As of February 14, 65,900 have received permission to settle in this way.
For those without family ties, Homes for Ukraine made it possible for individuals or local authorities in the UK to sponsor and accommodate a Ukrainian household. A total of 152,600 have been issued visas through this scheme to date.
People hosting family members are not eligible for any Government support, but Homes for Ukraine sponsors have benefitted from a monthly “thank you” payment.
This stipend was initially set at £350 for 12 months, but was bumped up to £500 for two years in December. Despite the increase, it has not proven enough for many hosts.
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The Homes for Ukraine blanket grant has been criticised for its lack of flexibility as it doesn’t take into account the size of the family sponsored. Housing costs have often been cited as the primary reason for breakdowns of sponsorship arrangements. As a result, 2,595 households under Homes for Ukraine have faced homelessness.
In the early weeks and months of the war, many Ukrainians desperately sought to get their family members to safety in the UK, despite not necessarily having the space or resources to take care of them. A total of 1,325 refugee families who arrived under the Ukraine Family Scheme have also lost a roof over their heads.
In the latest Humanitarian Response Insight Follow-up Survey – conducted between October 17 and November 7 – a majority of Ukrainian arrivals (56 percent) reported working in the UK. Despite this, almost half (45 percent) said they had experienced barriers to accessing the private rental market.
A lack of affordable housing and the cost-of-living crisis has made it extremely difficult for families to move into their own homes after the expiry of their schemes. According to homelessness charity Crisis, one in ten Ukrainian refugees have been threatened with eviction since arriving in the UK.
A Government spokesperson said: “In all cases local authorities have a legal duty to ensure no families are left without a roof over their heads. We are giving councils more resources to help them address these challenges.
“For those on the Homes for Ukraine scheme we are providing councils with per person funding, as well as £150 million to support guests into their own homes and £500 million to find housing, and we also extended and increased ‘thank you’ payments for sponsors to try to ensure sponsorships last as long as possible.”
Although the exact number of refugees who have since returned to Ukraine is unclear, 93 percent of those who participated in the previous iteration of the ONS’s survey remained in the country as of November.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as of February 14 just over eight million women and children had crossed into Europe – roughly 19 percent of the total population.
Their database shows Poland has accommodated more refugees than anywhere else – their over 1.5 million total almost ten times that of the UK. Germany came next with just over a million, followed by the Czech Republic at just under half a million.
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