Refugees from Ukraine have fled to neighbouring countries since the Russian invasion began at the end of February. Image: Gábor Csanádi
People living in rural locations who were hoping to house a Ukrainian refugee are being discouraged from applying, due to concerns about transport links, and a lack of infrastructure.
The government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme offers people £350 a month to open their homes to people fleeing the war. Over 100,000 individuals and organisations have officially registered their interest so far.
Charities, community groups and faith groups have been called upon to help match refugees to hosts, and provide much needed support in the weeks and months ahead.
However, some applicants – including Dragon’s Den star Deborah Meaden – were rejected when registering their interest with such groups because their home was deemed too rural or remote, prompting confusion from citizens who are keen to assist during the humanitarian crisis.
The official Homes for Ukraine website states: “If you have a residential spare room or separate self-contained accommodation that is unoccupied then please come forward. The accommodation must be available for at least 6 months, fit for people to live in, and suitable for the number of people to be accommodated.
“We will welcome as many arrivals as possible, based on the number of sponsors.”
Devon-based Sam Baker works with vulnerable elderly people, and felt called to help. He’s able to offer a property with two bedrooms, a bathroom, living room and a kitchen.
He told The Big Issue: “I live three miles outside a small village. It’s quiet, farm land. I filled out the form, which was really easy. There didn’t seem to be any checks, just my name, address, a description of the home, and postcode. But my home isn’t good enough apparently – even though it would be their own space, with a view of the sea, it’s too rural. If things change, my offer still stands.”
He went on to say: “People have been traumatised by their experiences. They probably need people who can understand and help. Putting a vulnerable family on their own in the middle of nowhere, with no one else around who they can talk to may make them more unhappy.”
Meaden had tried to register her interest on a website called Ukraine Shelter. She told The Big Issue: “The website said cities and towns were preferable, as support is needed and rural locations are unlikely to be matched”.
She later tweeted: “If you are feeling frustrated about not being able to match with a Ukraine family you can donate to Air bnb who are working with aid Agencies to match families with emergency homes.”
The charity Refugees at Home works to connect those with a spare room in their home to refugees and asylum seekers in need of somewhere to stay – and is currently prioritising non-rural locations.
On its website, the organisation states: “We have been inundated with offers of support to host and for now we are prioritising those in cities and towns with good transport links. This is a guest led decision because in our experience our guests are nervous about moving to smaller, quieter areas and need to be able to access their solicitors and caseworkers. If you do not live in a city location, our friends at NACCOM will be able to help put you in touch with a more local hosting scheme.”
However, in Hampshire, the Rural Refugee Network was established in 2015, and has welcomed and resettled families from Syria, Sudan and Afghanistan into safe homes. It says it is “ready and willing to support our Ukrainian neighbours during this time of need.”
Similarly, Jenni Regan, CEO of IMIX – an organisation working to change the conversation about migration and refugees – told The Big Issue: “As far as I know there will be no geographical restrictions and the hosting is open to all.
“In previous sponsorship schemes both rural and urban communities have taken part and in fact we have a great story from a Syrian family who were settled in rural Devon around four years ago.
“Also, in this case the Ukrainians will not be considered asylum seekers, and will have full access to jobs and benefits which is very different to other nationalities seeking asylum, so their needs will be different.”
She added: “It’s wonderful to see the amazing response from people in the UK to those fleeing Ukraine, but being a sponsor is a huge undertaking. Protecting people from harm must be at the forefront of people’s motivation.”
It’s recommended that any host ensures they have researched the support that people fleeing conflict may need, and what is available in their area.
Charities which are asking people to register their interest, and who can undertake the matching process, include Sanctuary Foundation, Reset, Room for Refugees, World Jewish Relief and Refugees at Home.