The horrific and devasting invasion of Ukraine has caused the displacement of over two million people.
So far, the British government’s response to this refugee crisis has been the same as its response to other refugee crises in the last 10 years: inadequate, poorly organised, and with no respect for human dignity.
As of today, the UK has only granted visas to 300 refugees displaced by the war in Ukraine. To put this into context, Poland has accepted 1.5 million, Hungary 200,000 Germany 20,000 and France over 10,000.
Media reports confirm that Home Office officials turned away over six hundred refugees from entering the UK after reaching Calais due to lack of paperwork despite them having transport across the channel secured. Owing to growing public pressure, we expect the UK to begin providing refuge to people displaced by this conflict.
Since 2002, Positive Action in Housing has operated Rooms for Refugees – a network that shelters refugees in the homes of volunteers instead of Home Office accommodation that is often best described as unliveable.
Together with our volunteer hosts and referral partners (caseworkers from refugee, homelessness, and aid organisations) we have for 20 years helped people to regularise their status, stabilise their lives and build positive futures within the stability of a host’s home.
Thankfully, the attitude of the UK government is not reflective of its citizens. In the last ten days, over 1,800 new hosts have registered with our Room for Refugees Hosting network to host refugees in their homes and day by day the numbers grow. These new hosts will certainly provide safe refuge to an individual or family displaced by the current crisis – providing them with a place of comfort during a harrowing time.
We have, however, received messages from some tenants that their landlords are not allowing tenants to take in refugees for short periods while their lawyers or caseworkers help them resolve their legal status.
We are living in a time of increasing emergency when helping one other is all that one can do. Our request to all Registered Social Landlords and private landlords is to urge you to do your bit to extend a hand of welcome and help your tenants to do so too.
The refugee crisis is with us and growing. It’s not going away, whether its Ukrainians, Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis, or others. We urge Registered Social Landlords to put the refugee crisis onto the agenda of your next board meeting and discuss the current crisis and your association or co-operative’s position in allowing tenants who seek your permission to take someone in if they feel they have the room.
Such hostings could make the difference between an individual or family being housed in inadequate Home Office accommodation or having a safe and stable home during the most difficult and distressing time of their lives.
To get the message of goodwill out there, we will be circulating our logo with the strapline “Refugees Welcome” – should any social landlord like a copy to use on your letterheads, social media, and websites. For advice or a presentation about refugee hosting or the Ukrainian refugee crisis so your members can hear the facts and ask questions, please email email@example.com and we will be happy to arrange this.
Robina Qureshi is chief executive of Positive Action in Housing.