Ukraine-Russia conflict: The Scottish families opening their homes to Ukrainian refugees

When Seonaid Mason told her five-year-old daughter Flora about her plans to take in a Ukrainian refugee family, she was delighted at the reaction.

"She seemed very keen on the idea of helping someone,” says Ms Mason, who lives in Haddington, East Lothian, with her husband Ronnie as well as Flora and her brother Ruairidh, nearly two. “Her first question was if she could share her bedroom with the children.”

Ms Mason, who works for a conservation charity, is planning to convert the family’s playroom into a home for a refugee family from Ukraine under the new Homes for Ukraine scheme. The initiative will allow households to take in Ukrainian refugees to their spare rooms rent-free for at least six months.

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Launched on Monday, the scheme’s website will match potential hosts with families in need.

Seonaid Mason and daughter Flora.
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The entire family is behind the plan, which they feel able to do after moving to a bigger property last year.

Ms Mason says: “She's [my daughter] only five, but it's her house too, so I wanted to see what her thoughts were on it. Both my kids are really sociable and Flora absolutely adores playing with other children, so if there are other children, then they’ll hopefully settle in OK and they'll have a wee playmate. It'll be a good experience to them and to show them that it's important to help other people who are in need.

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"She didn't know there was a war going on, so that was news to her this morning. And so I had to explain it in terms of Russia being a bully and stuff like that and she understood.

"I think she knows that it's important that we help people, because we're very lucky that we live in a country where we have our own home and there's no one that's going to come and take it, that we're in a position that we can help another family. She was very keen on that idea.”

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Ms Mason's husband Ronnie and son Ruairidh are also keen to host a refugee family.

Mr Mason, an electrical engineer, was equally enthusiastic.

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“I think we’d both been thinking about it,” says Ms Mason, who had read details of the scheme over the weekend. “And then I just broached the subject and I didn't realise that he was going to be so positive and that he'd already been thinking about it himself. But we were obviously on the same page.”

Hosts will be paid £350 a month as a “thank you” under the UK Government scheme, which will allow people to nominate a named individual or a family to stay with them rent-free, or in another property, for at least six months.

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Meanwhile, the Scottish Government said it was looking at "all potential options" to provide accommodation for at least 3,000 Ukrainian refugees as Scotland and Wales both said they were willing to become "super sponsors".

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The Masons plan to register for the scheme as soon as possible, when they hope questions they have about schooling, healthcare and other support for the family will be answered.

"We’ve decided that we're going to register interest and see what the scheme is like and make sure there's enough support to help family get on their feet,” Ms Mason says.

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“There's a lot of detail that you can find about getting clothing and material possessions – there's plenty of resources out there to help with that. But it is the access to schools and English language lessons and health care things and trauma resources that we want to know about. It's quite a scary thing opening your home and especially for six months, so I just want to make sure that they wouldn't be a worse position if they came to live with us.”

The first Ukrainian families to use the scheme are set to arrive in the UK by the end of this week. However, it is understood that a vetting process will take place before British families are accepted as hosts. The Masons say they are ready to welcome a family quickly if necessary.

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“We need to get a bed and move some of the furniture around, but we've already talked about where we will put things, so I don't think it'll take very long at all to get this place ready,” says Ms Mason.

“I didn’t realise that it was possible to do this until I read about the new Ukrainian scheme, but there are ways that people can host families coming from other places as well.”

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Alison Phipps, UNESCO chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts and chair of the New Scots Core Group for Refugee Integration, has hosted refugees in her Glasgow home for the past 15 years.

She says she believes there will be a huge number of offers from people keen to open their homes to Ukrainian families. The UK Government has said there will be no limit on the number of people who can benefit from the scheme, as long as there are hosts to take them.

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Room for Refugees, which is part of Glasgow-based Positive Action in Housing, has sheltered more than 4,000 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Palestine, Eritrea and Ukraine.

Ms Phipps says: “We’re really lucky that there are a few good charities in Scotland already doing this, so there is a history of people who have opened their homes to refugees. I think also, with the COP26 hosting scheme in Glasgow [when local people were asked to host delegates from all over the world], people now know that they can do it.”

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