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Homes for Ukraine scheme opens in UK

Unprecedented numbers register to offer accommodation to Ukrainian refugees.

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Image Credit: UN Women/Aurel Obreja

The UK Government has launched a new “bespoke” scheme to accommodate Ukrainian refugees fleeing from conflict in their homeland.

Homes for Ukraine will enable individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to volunteer accommodation for Ukrainians and their immediate family members, providing a route of safety for refugees.

Housing and Communities Secretary Michael Gove told MPs that the UK had a history of "supporting the most vulnerable during their darkest hours" and announced there would be no limits on the number of Ukrainian refugees admitted.

Almost three million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion, with Poland taking in more than 1.7 million of them. Other neighbouring countries such as Hungary and Slovakia have accepted six-figure numbers as part of a collective effort to provide safety to those at risk. Many more remain internally displaced across Ukraine.

Michael Gove also confirmed that each household housing a refugee will be offered £350 a month tax-free to contribute towards their upkeep, with a minimum expectation to accommodate them for six months.

However these payments are linked to each address being used in the sponsorship scheme, rather than the number of individuals taken in, so households accommodating a family of Ukrainians will still receive just  £350.

Current plans also only permit these payments for the first 12 months, despite Ukrainians being allowed to stay in the country for up to three years. Yet it’s entirely possible the government may change these rules to ensure the longevity of the scheme.

Labour were quick to criticise the initiative with Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, calling it a “DIY asylum scheme” given families need to first identify a Ukrainian family they wish to sponsor. This makes it incredibly difficult for those fleeing Ukraine to “advertise” themselves to prospective British hosts.

Nevertheless, an unprecedented number of British households have signed up to the programme, with more than 100,000 registering within 24 hours of applications opening. The government’s refugee website even crashed as The Guardian reports 10,000 people every hour were initially signing up.

The York Press revealed that 95 people in York had registered by Monday morning while Rebecca Russell from the York City of Sanctuary, a local human rights charity, claimed “people in York really do want to help”.

This follows two rallies across the city in support of Ukraine where Rachael Maskell, the Labour MP for York Central, exclaimed how important it is to “stand together and send our solidarity to the people of Ukraine”.

Indeed Homes for Ukraine is the second visa scheme the government has set up since the war broke out, after the Ukraine Family Scheme was unveiled on 4 March. This granted Ukrainians with immediate or extended family in the UK to apply for a visa to join them, with around 4,000 applications approved according to the Home Office.

The EU has granted Ukrainians a blanket right to stay and work throughout the 27 nations for up to three years. This is a pledge echoed by the UK government who confirmed those arriving through these routes would receive full and unrestricted access to benefits, healthcare, employment and other support.

In response to concerns around the added strain on local public services, Michael Gove confirmed that each local authority would receive an extra £10,000 for every Ukrainian refugee settled. However it is unclear if this is sufficient given the complex needs of those fleeing the war.

Yet what is clear is a burning desire amongst the British public to support those in their time of need, with Homes for Ukraine seeing an extraordinarily high uptake on the first day alone. If this enthusiasm continues, the scheme looks set to safeguard a huge number of Ukrainians.

Link to Homes for Ukraine scheme: https://homesforukraine.campaign.gov.uk/

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