'Beset by issues': 500 days since launch of Homes for Ukraine

Thousands of Ukrainians have arrived in the UK since fleeing the Russian invasion. Credit: PA

It has been 500 days since the UK launched its Homes for Ukraine scheme, but the plan to provide temporary refuge to those fleeing Russia has been "beset by issues", with hundreds of refugees ending up homeless.

Boris Johnson launched the scheme on March 14, 2022, telling the "very generous, open and welcoming" British people they could open their homes to Ukrainians if they wish.

Thousands upon thousands obliged, and an influx of Ukrainian women and children soon arrived in the UK.

But 500 days since the scheme was launched, thousands of vulnerable Ukrainians have found themselves with nowhere to live.

Stand for All, a human rights consultancy organisation, told ITV News the scheme has been "beset by a number of issues" and "demonstrated why relying on public goodwill is no substitute for a well resourced asylum system".

The numbers

A huge 138,000 British households signed up to the Homes for Ukraine scheme within two days of it launching but that still hasn't translated to the number of arrivals.

There have been 203,600 visa applications under the scheme since it launched 500 days ago and around 80% - some 166,400 - have been approved.

Ukrainian refugees Yaroslav Kryvoshyia and Irinia Kryvoviaz with her son Sasha and their host Sarah Allen-Stevens in April 2022. Credit: PA

But the scheme has seen the arrival of just 128,800 Ukrainians, according to the government's latest data from July 24.

Of the 203,600 applications, 5,200 were refused and 8,200 are still awaiting a decision.

Alongside the Homes for Ukraine scheme is a family scheme, where refugees with family in the UK were allowed to join them.

The family scheme has seen the arrival of 53,300 Ukrainians out of 100,500 applications.

The problems

Refugee support groups have told ITV News that the short-sightedness of the scheme had resulted in many Ukrainians being made homeless in the UK.

Stand for All director Daniel Sohege said: "A lack of understanding about the specific needs of refugees left many providing assistance, and the Ukrainians they were providing it to, without the support they needed.

"This, in part, has led to numerous situations where Ukrainians have been forced to find alternative accommodation at very short notice."

The latest figures, complied by the Local Government Association at the end of February 2023, showed there were 4,295 Ukrainian households either homeless or at risk of homelessness - and 2,985 of these have dependent children.

Households who signed up to accommodate Ukrainians had to commit to the scheme for just six months, an aspect of the policy which Mr Sohege said put "many in a vulnerable position, not knowing where they will be able to move to next".

Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voice, told ITV News "part of the problem was that no-one thought through a long-term strategy".

She added: "There has been no obvious plan for what happens after the three-year period of the visa. We can’t rely on public goodwill forever, and there should have been a plan in place to move Ukrainians to more suitable long-term accommodation."

Housing minister Felicity Buchan said: “We don’t want any Ukrainian to be in a situation where they are homeless."

She added: "Local authorities are doing their jobs and doing them incredibly well, it is a small percentage [which have ended up homeless]."

A longer term plan emerges

In June this year the government announced a plan to help Ukrainian refugees find their own accommodation.

Housing and Homelessness Minister Buchan said local councils would be provided with new cash to support Ukrainians because "sadly, the fighting in Ukraine shows no sign of ending soon".

A fund of £150 million to help Ukrainians into their own homes and to continue sponsorship arrangements was announced.

The new money will go to councils to help Ukrainian families into private rented accommodation and find work.

It will also go towards continuing sponsorship arrangements, as many guests are in their second year in the UK.

The funding is being divided according to the number of Ukrainians in each nation – England will receive around £109 million, Scotland £30 million, Wales £8 million and Northern Ireland £2 million.

Those hosting Ukrainians will continue to receive a monthly £350 thank-you payment during guests’ first 12 months, rising to £500 a month during the following year.

Reset, a charity which helps welcome refugees into communities across the UK, said the Homes for Ukraine scheme was "hugely successful".

Charity director Emma Harrison said the feedback from both hosts and those who have arrived "has been overwhelmingly positive with phrases such as 'life-changing' cropping up again and again".

What about the rest of the UK asylum system?

Robina Qureshi, director of charity Positive Action in Housing, said "you can't look at the Ukrainian issue without mentioning the asylum policy of this country".

She welcomed the safe route for Ukrainians but said "refugees from the global south have no safe route, they are blamed for their desperation to flee war and left to drown and be left destitute".

Rishi Sunak has repeatedly defended his plans to stop illegal immigration - insisting they are fair and compassionate - which include detaining and deporting almost everyone who arrives in the UK illegally.

Ms Ramadan, from Migrant Voice, said there "should have been a plan in place to move Ukrainians to more suitable long-term accommodation" from the start, and the government "should be learning from what happened".

He added: "What we are seeing at the moment is this government is looking to deny people asylum, place them on barges and deny them rights.

"We need to have one policy that all asylum seekers can expect the same treatment, and provided with the support and safety which they need."

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