Ukraine-Russia: Ukrainian refugees forced to present to Scottish councils as homeless after hosting arrangements collapse

Ukrainian refugees who travelled to Scotland after fleeing their war-torn homeland have been forced to present to local authorities as homeless after arrangements with Scottish hosts fell through.

A number of refugees have contacted Glasgow City Council to say they are homeless after travelling to Scotland to find the accommodation arrangements they made with hosts or family members are no longer possible.

Some are believed to have arrived under the Homes for Ukraine scheme run by the UK government, which allows Ukrainians to live in Britain after matching with hosts offering free accommodation for a minimum of six months, while others have been granted a visa through the family scheme, which is open to those with close relatives already in the UK.

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It is understood some refugees on the UK government scheme had expected to live with Scots who had agreed to sponsor them – but on arrival in Scotland, they found themselves without without a place to stay. Others, who travelled to Scotland on the family visa scheme, found their family did not have the means to accommodate them – with some being told by the authorities they were unable to host relatives due to HMO licence restrictions, which limit the number of people allowed to live in a rented property.

Millions of Ukrainians have left the country since the invasion.Millions of Ukrainians have left the country since the invasion.
Millions of Ukrainians have left the country since the invasion.

Glasgow City Council said it initially housed those affected in short-term bed and breakfast accommodation, but would soon move them into temporary furnished flats.

The news comes just days after a Glasgow refugee housing charity warned the UK government scheme was being exploited by men who were offering Ukrainian women a place to stay in return for sex. Most of those seeking refuge are women and children, as men aged between 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave Ukraine. Positive Action in Housing, which runs the UK’s longest-established refugee hosting programme, said it had been contacted by women who had been approached by British men offering them an “arrangement” and warned the government scheme was not fit for purpose.

Gary Christie, head of policy, communications and communities at the Scottish Refugee Council, said: “Undoubtedly we will see private sponsorship offers not work out or families not able to accommodate their loved ones they are so desperate to bring to safety. It’s essential they are offered whatever support they need to feel safe and welcome in Scotland.”

It is understood a Glasgow hotel has been reserved by the Scottish Government to temporarily accommodate refugees arriving under the super sponsor scheme, until more permanent accommodation can be found. Last week, the Scottish Government announced the creation of three “welcome centres” in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Cairnryan, which would provide hot meals, translation services and trauma support.

Mr Christie added: “People arriving in Scotland through the super sponsor route, where the Scottish Government acts as the sponsor to those fleeing the conflict, are initially being housed in welcome hubs to meet their immediate needs of food and rest. After an assessment of their needs, they will then be moved into longer term homes across Scotland, initially through available local authority offers. We believe this is a more rational and streamlined approach as responsibility for showing people from Ukraine a warm welcome cannot rest alone on members of the public who are able to offer accommodation.

“We’re continuing to work with colleagues in the Scottish Government, local government and third sector to provide support and advice to people arriving in Scotland from the dreadful conflict in Ukraine. It’s essential that Ukraine refugees whatever the route the arrive into Scotland, many of whom are women and children, are met with the same welcome and support.”

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Gary Gray, who launched website to match Scottish hosts with Ukrainian refugees – and also guide volunteers through the sponsorship process – said the organisation had already come across situations where pre-agreed arrangements had fallen through and had referred the families to councils for homeless support.

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He said: “It is mainly those who have come here on the family visa scheme. People living here have agreed to do the visa, then the families have arrived and they find they can’t afford to keep them – or that councils are going in and looking at properties and telling people they can’t stay under HMO rules.”

Mr Gray said his phone was “ringing constantly” with people needing help.

He said: “We are effectively a group of hosts. We're helping families match up, we are showing people how to get people from Poland to here. We're helping with how you set these people up when they arrive because we’ve been given no information whatsoever [from government]. It’s a massively complex thing, setting up a refugee.”

Critics have also slammed the slow and “bureaucratic” process which has left many refugees still waiting for visas to be approved. The latest figures, published this week by the UK government, showed just 4,700 visas had been issued in total under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. A further 24,400 refugees have been granted visas for the UK under the family scheme.

A total of 210 refugees have been granted visas through hosts in Scotland under the scheme – with 30 of those sponsored directly by the Scottish Government as a "super sponsor". Under the super sponsor scheme, refugees do not need to have arranged a private host before they arrive in Scotland and can instead list the Scottish Government as their sponsor.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "Sadly, there are always going to be cases where sponsorship arrangements don't work out as planned, which makes it doubly important that local authorities are properly supported to fill the gaps.

"We know from the Afghan resettlement scheme that local authorities are really stretched and this is being made worse by the £250 million cut to council budgets that they are facing this year. The Government must ensure that new funding is put in place to help them to house people in good quality, temporary accommodation while permanent places are secured."

He added: “More than 100,000 people across the UK have offered to take refugees into their homes, but at the moment, the big hold up seems to be the UK government issuing visas. They need to get their act together.”

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When the Homes for Ukraine scheme was announced earlier this month, UK minister Michael Gove said there would be a “light touch” approach to vetting hosts. He said full security checks would not be required and “very light touch criminal checks” would be sufficient to ensure someone is an appropriate sponsor. It is the responsibility of the local council’s to carry out checks on the property and household.

A spokeswoman for Glasgow City Council said: “There have been a handful of people from Ukraine who have presented to us as homeless and our homeless team are helping. If we do use bed and breakfasts, it is only for a day or two before they are put in temporary furnished flats.”

The City of Edinburgh Council said it had not yet had to deal with any homeless refugees and added numbers of people coming from Ukraine were “relatively low”.

A spokeswoman said: “A variety of accommodation options are being considered and provided based on individual needs. To date, however, most arrivals have pre-arranged hosts or onward travel already arranged. Following the first arrivals last weekend, this process has worked well, albeit numbers remain relatively low.”

The Scottish Government refused to answer questions about how it will house refugees arriving in Scotland on the super sponsor scheme, or on the vetting process for hosts.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described the Home Office processing of visas as “unacceptably slow”.

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