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Ex-minister joins Ukraine host families in call for end to refugee 'favouritism'
14 March 2023, 07:48 | Updated: 14 March 2023, 08:43
Families hosting Ukrainians in the UK have called for an end to refugee “favouritism” and have urged the government to use the Homes for Ukraine scheme as a ‘template’, one year on from its launch.
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It’s as the former Conservative refugees minister who designed the scheme, Lord Richard Harrington, has told LBC it should be replicated for other asylum seekers.
Lord Harrington, who was asked by then Prime Minister Boris Johnson to return to government in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, said that the Homes for Ukraine scheme should be used as a model to provide accommodation for refugees from all over the world, to end the practice of people being “crammed into hotels for indefinite periods”.
He said: “We now have a distribution mechanism that will take people, look after them in people’s homes and provide the wrap around services for them, so that never again will we have people crammed into hotels for indefinite periods whilst the government desperately tries to do something with them.”
Lord Harrington told LBC the policy should also apply to people who arrive illegally, as long as their status can be determined quickly.
He said: “The problem is it now takes years to determine someone’s status. But it should be a standing system and there are people in this country that will always take people with humanity.
“People are prepared to throw open their homes to people far less fortunate than themselves, and that’s something for this country to be proud of.”
One year on from the scheme’s launch, British hosts have told LBC celebrating the success of Homes for Ukraine “sits uncomfortably” with them, because of the government’s new illegal migration bill.
Kitty Hamilton, who runs the Crouch End Hosts group in North London and is herself hosting a family of three, told LBC: “From the very beginning it has never sat easily with us that the Homes for Ukraine scheme is so much more favourable to any other. The current policy being championed by the government is incredibly distressing.”
She says she raised the issue at a government round table discussion on Ukrainian refugees earlier this month, telling civil servants it’s “very difficult to justify and ask people to come forward, when we aren’t doing the same for others.”
Ms Hamilton believes the government has misjudged public feeling on refugees, saying “everybody was astounded that 250,000 people stepped up and wanted to open their doors [to Ukrainians].
"I think this nation is far more decent and open than the government gives us credit for, and that is the shame of what is going on at the moment.”
Another ‘super-host’, Simone Schehtman, told LBC the government’s communication around its new migration bill is “extremely toxic” and is making it “difficult” to support Ukrainians.
She said: “This is all permeating what would have been, and should have been, a potentially fantastic template to welcome people fleeing war into this country.
“The Homes for Ukraine scheme was unique, fast and immediate, and showed incredible goodwill of the British people. Almost all people who’ve been hosting have had a very positive experience.
"Using that as a template as to how we can help other people find safe refuge from other traumas across the globe should be, could be, and in my view must be the direction we take – safe passage that is clear, quick and fair.”
Ms Schetman, who has helped more than 400 Ukrainian refugees come to Britain, told LBC that hosts have been “acting essentially as full-time social workers”, assisting them with housing, education and employment, and she believes thousands would continue to do so for people from around the world.
Housing Secretary Michael Gove praised people who have hosted Ukrainian refugees as a "wonderful example of British generosity" in a video to mark 12 months since the launch of the scheme.
Mr Gove said Ukrainian refugees had been "taken into the hearts and the homes of people who have been so generous in offering support to those fleeing persecution".
He added: "I want to say thank you to everyone who has acted as a host and been such a wonderful, wonderful example of British generosity in showing what we can do to support people in their most difficult hour.
"I also want to say thank you to all those Ukrainian citizens who have contributed so much to our national life in the last year and I want to say to everyone, if you can play your part in the months ahead - as Ukraine faces many more difficult days and weeks - if you can play your part by opening your home to a Ukrainian who is fleeing persecution then I would be so grateful, they would be so grateful, we would be showing Britain at its best.
"To all of you who have been so generous in the past and to those of you thinking about what you might be able to do in the future, thank you!"
The Homes for Ukraine scheme was launched by the government on 14 March 2022 in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The scheme allows people living in the UK to sponsor a named Ukrainian national or family to live with them, providing they have suitable accommodation to offer.
Hosts were offered monthly thank-you payment of £350 a month during the guests’ first 12 months in the UK and £500 a month during their second 12 months, however many hosts have reported spending thousands of pounds assisting their guests with benefits, employment, education, registering for health services and bank accounts, and helping them to move on into more permanent accommodation.
One year on, @michaelgove talks about the UK’s continued support for the Ukrainian people. Ukraine is still under attack. Its people still need your help. Can you offer them safety in your home? Register your interest here: https://t.co/ac6ZR9M8Y1 #StandwithUkraine pic.twitter.com/ud8QniPwGt— Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (@luhc) March 14, 2023
Asked for a response to calls for the scheme to be replicated, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud history of providing safe and legal routes for those who genuinely need it, and since 2015 we have offered a place to almost half a million men, women and children seeking safety.
“We are committed to creating more routes to safety for vulnerable people across the globe, but we must first grip the rise in illegal migration and stop the boats.
“Which is why we are introducing new legislation that will see people who come to the UK illegally, liable for detention and swift removal.”