LONDON (Reuters) – The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) voiced concern on Wednesday over a UK scheme that allows British residents to house Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion, saying the programme could be exploited without adequate safeguards.
The British government introduced the “Homes for Ukraine” scheme last month, allowing Britons to sponsor Ukrainians and provide them somewhere to live for a minimum of six months.
The UNHCR said it was aware of an increasing number of reports of Ukrainian women feeling at risk from male sponsors, and that it believed women and mothers with children should be matched with couples or families rather than with single men.
“UNHCR highlights the need for adequate safeguards and vetting measures to be in place against exploitation, as well as adequate support for sponsors,” the UNHCR said in a statement.
So far, some 43,600 applications have been made for the scheme, although just 12,500 visas have been issued to Ukrainians, with those involved saying the process was proving slow and complicated, partly due to British security checks on those seeking to come to Britain.
The U.N. agency said it was also worried about the consequences should the refugees’ host prove to be a threat, and about the minimum six-month duration.
“Housing a stranger in an extra bedroom for an extended period is not, for some people, sustainable,” the agency said, adding the need for background checks and providing financial support was overwhelming local authorities.
The British government said those housing and sponsoring refugees from Ukraine had received background checks and visits by local officials to ensure the accommodation was fit for purpose.
“Attempts to exploit vulnerable people are truly despicable – this is why we have designed the Homes for Ukraine scheme to have specific safeguards in place,” a government spokesperson said.
(Reporting by Farouq Suleiman; Editing by Bernadette Baum)