On March 13, the UK government announced a program through which individuals, companies, and community groups can offer to host refugees from the war in Ukraine in spare rooms or empty homes, for a minimum of six months. Less than 24 hours after registration had opened, 100,000 potential hosts were signed up.
Now, the real work begins. The government has done a good job of appearing to open its arms to those displaced by the invasion—particularly after it faced loud criticism for failing to waive visa rules for Ukrainians, as other European countries have done, which left only two routes into the country for refugees: joining family members, or relocating for specific jobs.
Homes for Ukraine scheme launches in the UK
Homes for Ukraine, as the new hosting program is called, allows the government to avoid a visa waiver, but it could potentially allow a lot of people in: “There will be no limit or cap on the sponsorship route,” according to the FAQ page on the program’s website.
The Homes for Ukraine site states: “The UK is one of the most generous nations in the world” with “a long history of helping others in their hour of need.” But the UK also has a lot of bureaucracy, and a history of poor treatment of immigrants. So far in this crisis, the government has been sharply criticized for failing to process applications quickly, or at all, from people in the UK with family in the Ukraine who are trying to get out country, leaving refugees stranded and in limbo. Nor does the country have a track record of treating previous refugee groups with consistent care or efficiency.
UK hosts will be paid £350 a month for taking Ukrainians in
Under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, hosts will be paid £350 a month towards their costs. This equates to £420 million a year, if all 100,000 places offered so far are taken up. That’s less than a quarter of the annual £1.7 billion currently being spent by the UK on paying for hotels for Afghans and other refugees awaiting resettlement.
There is still a lot of red tape. Potential hosts will be subject to background checks, and their homes might need to be visited to check that they’re suitable, the site states. Refugees will need to apply for visas, and can do so beginning March 18.
The outpouring of generosity from the British public is real. But it’s not yet clear if the outcome, in the hands of its government, will match the promise.