IT HAS been a dispiriting wait for Moira Stephenson since volunteering to host Ukrainian refugees in her home near Glasgow.
The 40-year-old mother of two adopted children had signed up to the UK government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme in late March, but the “incredibly frustrating” process had until last week resulted in nothing more than a “we’re sorry it’s taking so long” email.
Moira, who works in higher education, enrolled in the scheme as soon as it was announced by the government.
“Seeing the news reports of women and children who have had to flee with nothing but the clothes they’re wearing made me think of my own children and how I would feel were they in that situation,” she tells Redaction Report.
She is one of more than 200,000 people in Britain to have applied to welcome Ukrainian refugees into their homes, but government figures show that just 12,500 people have so far been granted visas.
Moira added: “I have had zero contact since submitting the form online. I fear that this is a stalling technique by a government who do not really want to accept refugees into the country at all. It all seems like a token paperwork exercise to look like they are doing something.”
The Scottish Government announced their plan to act as a “super sponsor” on the scheme, removing the need for applicants to be matched with individual hosts prior to travelling to the UK. Despite this effort to speed up the process, data published this week showed that the Home Office has issued just 570 visas relating to Scottish sponsors.
Moira is hopeful of a quick resolution, but insists that her experience is discouraging to both refugees and hosts. “It’s incredibly frustrating when we see all the videos on the news about refugees but our red tape is preventing people from being able to offer them a home, however temporary. Seeing this progress in this way certainly won’t encourage more people to get involved and help.”
This month, Moira’s home was finally visited by her local council as part of the screening procedure required before being matched with a Ukrainian family. She was notified that her home met the required environmental health standards, but now faces an additional wait as the matching process takes place.
“They’re not exactly forthcoming with any information. We’ve been told it could take about 4 to 8 weeks still,” she said earlier this month.
Having two children under the age of 12 has been a consideration when deciding whether to welcome refugees into the family home, but Moira has taken an active role in educating her children about the crisis and preparing them for a potential house-guest.
She said: “The eldest has been watching the news with us and was involved in the discussions about how we could help. The youngest has cleared out some clothes and toys that could be donated to a child who may be placed with us or in the community. They are both aware of current events and want to help in their own way. They are excited at the prospect of having another child in the house to play with but they are also aware that refugees are likely to have suffered trauma and will need support.”
Moira has never worked with refugees before and she says that watching the humanitarian crisis unfold in Ukraine has inspired her and her family to help. “We have a guest room in our home that could easily be used so we first tried to find a charity that would allow us to help a refugee even before the government Homes for Ukraine site was set up. Other conflicts with refugees fleeing war zones haven’t been featured so much in our news so they (refugees) haven’t really been brought to the attention of the public before.”
The United Nations agency focused on protecting refugees last month raised concerns about the implementation of the UK’s Homes for Ukraine scheme. In a statement, the UNHCR addressed “the need for adequate safeguards and vetting measures to be in place against exploitation, as well as adequate support for sponsors”. This comes amid widespread worry that the current system leaves refugees vulnerable to human trafficking.
A government spokesperson this month maintained the safeguards are in place, and said: “The Home Office is now processing thousands of visas a day – this shows the changes made to streamline the service are working and we’ll continue to build on this success so we can speed up the process even further.”
For Moira and thousands of other Britons who are desperate to help and anxiously waiting for an update, the process remains aggravatingly slow.
She sighed: “I can’t imagine what those poor folks are going through. Our frustrations are nothing (compared) to their trauma.”
Taymour Khashoggi is a freelance journalist and postgraduate student at The London School of Journalism.
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