Home News After fleeing war, Ukrainian refugees in the UK are threatened by homelessness

After fleeing war, Ukrainian refugees in the UK are threatened by homelessness

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London, United Kingdom – When Russia’s war against Ukraine began last February, like so many others, 18-year-old Anna Mirchuk and her mother had no choice but to leave their home.

They fled their western town of Styry and arrived in Poland weeks later.

The Merchuks were preparing to leave for Canada. But after a chance encounter with a British volunteer helping Ukrainian refugees obtain British visas, they change course and after a few weeks head to England with their new sponsor, Derek Edwards.

The United Kingdom is one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies, and as part of the government’s Homes for Ukraine programme, Anna and her mother have moved into her house in Milton Keynes, about 80 kilometers (51 miles) northwest of London.

With Edwards, an entrepreneur, Anna co-founded a charity, Nadia, which means hope in Ukrainian.

We were discussing how to gather all the information about UK housing schemes [for Ukrainian refugees] Same place, because it was confusing, especially for people who don’t speak English,” Anna told Al Jazeera.

So we decided to start this charity that focuses on getting visas for Ukrainian refugees and helping them come to England. »

Anna, who speaks fluent English, was responsible for answering questions from refugees and sponsors and matching them with them.

And while Nadia works on an app to collect data and automatically connect refugees with host families, Anna appreciates the manual effort as it creates a bond between the two parties.

“I feel so good when I see a Ukrainian family come to England, find a job, find schools for their children, take English lessons, and integrate into British society,” said the aspiring politician.

Anna estimates that Nadia has helped around 500 refugees so far, but the focus is now on finding more permanent housing solutions after the end of the care period – which usually lasts six months.

Homelessness amid the high cost of living

According to the United Nations, more than six million people have fled Ukraine, in Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II. Six million more have been internally displaced.

Like other European countries that have taken steps to welcome Ukrainian refugees, the British government has launched three visa-based schemes: Homes for Ukraine, the Family Scheme and the Orientation Scheme.

The programs allow refugees to stay in the country for up to three years and have access to schools, health care and social benefits, as well as the right to work.

A spokesperson for the British government told Al Jazeera: “Homeland for Ukraine has welcomed 112,000 Ukrainians to the UK, thanks to the generosity of our sponsors.” All Ukrainian expats can work or study and receive benefits from day one and we’ve increased the ‘thank you’ to our sponsors to £500. [$600] One month the guest has been here for a year.

A protester holds a banner reading “Refugees are always welcome” during an anti-war rally in London on March 6, 2022. [File: Alberto Pezzali/AP Photo]

But while their achievement in hosting refugees fleeing war from Russia into Ukraine has been hailed, a worrying trend is emerging now, a year after the invasion began: the rise in the number of homeless shelters.

The cost of living crisis in the UK, combined with a lack of affordable housing, has seriously affected the ability of refugees to make the transition from sponsorship to their home.

This situation was exacerbated by the lack of credit history in the country, lack of English language proficiency and difficulties in finding work.

Crisis, the national homeless charity, said: “The design and implementation of available funds has left some refugees without support – putting their living conditions at risk and putting them at risk of homelessness.”

According to the Ministry of Housing, Housing and Communities, 4,295 Ukrainian families have received homelessness assistance from local councils since their arrival in the country, a six-fold increase since June 2022. The number would be much higher as only 72% of local English-speaking authorities were surveyed.

Initially, the British hosts responded enthusiastically at the start of the war by opening their homes to Ukrainian refugees, with as many as 200,000 families registered in the first weeks of the government announcing the schemes.

However, despite British families hosting more than 140,000 people under the Ukraine sponsorship scheme, many hosts are now reluctant to extend their stay by six months as inflation soars.

We have provided the councils with significant funding, including a further £150m [$180m] To help Ukrainian guests settle in their homes plus 500 million pounds [$600m] For housing for people fleeing conflict, the government spokesperson said.

But loopholes in support for Ukrainian refugees prompted a multi-party coalition of more than 70 MPs to sign an open letter on Monday calling on the UK government to act immediately.

“In a survey of Ukrainian refugees, the Center for Employment Rights found they face serious risks of homelessness and poverty, with 1 in 10 at risk of deportation at some point in their stay in the UK,” reads a message from all parliamentary blocs. (APPG), adding that two-thirds of them have little confidence in finding rental housing due to high rents, deposits and other obstacles.

In addition, refugees who arrive under the family scheme are twice as likely to become homeless as their counterparts under other schemes, due to lack of financial assistance, lack of space in homes, and lack of transportation if placement is interrupted.

Charities such as Settlement, which has helped 402 Ukrainian families so far, are urging the government to implement the APPG’s recommendations.

Kate Smart, CEO of Settled.com, said in a statement.

Another social enterprise, PackOnline is used by funders to help the homeless start over.

“We’ve supported about 30 Ukrainian families so far, and almost all of those families have been single-parent families – single mothers to be specific,” Seb Barker, president of Beam, told Al Jazeera.

The process begins with referring various government partners and councils at risk to Beam, who then recruits a team of social workers to provide the required support.

A fundraising page on Beam is then launched.

“We see a trend in all the different council partners we work with, more and more Ukrainians are becoming homeless – either because the relationship with the host has broken down or because it ended anyway and they have nowhere to move,” Parker said. He said.

“So counseling provides a really vital way of helping people settle into the UK for the long term; to find that job often people are really willing to work, in our experience. And then we can help them find their own home to rent after that.”

For Anna, who had to drop out of school to focus on Nadia but still hopes to study social sciences at Cambridge University, the goal is to house 100 families by the end of June.

“We decided to act as a guarantor for Ukrainian families to pay a deposit and three months’ rent in advance,” she said.

Anna hopes that in the future Nadia will be able to offer her services to refugees and asylum seekers from other countries.

Most recently, the association signed a partnership with United 24, a global fundraising initiative launched by the Ukrainian authorities in May, and by December, had raised more than $237 million in 110 countries.

“We hope to be more involved in humanitarian aid,” said Anna.

“I feel like it helps me as much as it helps families,” she continued. “Because when you are in a country other than your own and do nothing to help, it is like feeling every tear inside of you. It makes me feel so much better that I contribute and help.”

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