I read and re-read Michael Gove’s official letter to civil society on Ukraine’s humanitarian crisis, detailing several facets of “Homes for Ukraine.”
I’ve been hoping for a system that will eliminate contracts with profit-making organisations that currently house asylum seekers. I argue for a system that empowers communities, individuals, and non-profit organisations to take a more active role in the process of welcoming asylum seekers, particularly in terms of initial housing and ongoing support.
The ‘Homes for Ukraine’ initiative addresses the pressing need for protection and stability that a safe home gives. The overwhelmingly positive response of the British populace to the idea of opening their homes and communities to those seeking a safe haven demonstrates the welcoming nature of the British nations. The ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme will, without a doubt, provide an urgent and much-needed emergency road to safety for Ukrainians seeking to enter the UK.
I want to remind readers that we cannot and should not overlook the Government’s markedly different and discriminatory approach to the Ukraine refugee crisis in comparison to previous, ongoing refugee crises.
I’d want to emphasise that ‘Homes for Ukraine’ is a managed migration initiative, not a refugee protection programme. Most significantly, this method runs the risk of undermining the Refugee Convention, as refugees do not require visas or sponsors in order to enter a nation and seek asylum.
I want to emphasise to Michael Gove and Priti Patel that they should support improved initial rights for people seeking refuge, including the right to work and access to benefits, anyone fleeing war and persecution should have a clear, safe, and supported route to claiming asylum in the UK, regardless of their country of origin or the conflict from which they are fleeing.
An asylum system that allows refugees to reach the UK safely and speedily should also be adaptable enough to respond to any humanitarian situation. Regrettably, we are still a long way from having the humanitarian and responsive asylum system that displaced persons seeking refuge in the United Kingdom so sorely require.
It is critical to highlight that the Government has committed to delivering the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme in collaboration with local governments, charities, church communities, and other community organisations.
However, I’ve heard from numerous leaders of refugee charities that there are significant communication gaps and numerous unanswered questions, such as how vetting and safeguarding checks will be conducted. What continuous support would be provided to guarantee an appropriate and trauma-informed response to guests from Ukraine and to minimise the danger of, at best, host-guest relationships collapsing and, at worst, exploitation and harm? What will be the charitable organisations’ and local governments’ duties and obligations, particularly in terms of connecting hosts and guests and ensuring safety? What assistance will be provided to individuals who wish to leave their hosting placement and establish themselves independently in the society or seek asylum?
I would argue that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities should be receptive to and guided by the expertise of their partners in providing community-based housing and support to persons who have experienced trauma or conflict.
Most significantly, I want to emphasise to Michael Gove and Priti Patel and anyone considering hosting Ukrainian refugees that hosting works best when adequate time, support, and thought are devoted to creating a pleasant and safe hosting environment.
I want to emphasise to readers considering hosting Ukrainian refugees that with proper screening and matching of hosts and guests, property checks, trauma-informed response training, and ongoing support in an appropriate community setting, hosting can be a critical pathway to safety for someone in need of refuge. It is critical that the Government’s emergency reaction to the Ukraine refugee crisis does not jeopardise the well-being and safety of hosts and guests.
I’d want to remind policymakers that establishing long-term pathways to permanent relocation will be critical to the overall success of ‘Homes for Ukraine.’ Most significantly, consideration should be given to housing and integrating help beyond short-term hosting positions to enable people to rebuild their lives here – or even to seek asylum – if they so wish.
William Gomes is a British Bangladeshi freelance journalist and human rights activist based in York, North Yorkshire