The UN refugee agency has voiced concern about a program aimed at helping refugees from Ukraine coming to the UK. It said that the "Homes for Ukraine" initiative lacks adequate checks and could lead to exploitation.
"Homes for Ukraine" was launched last month as part of the UK's response to the crisis in Ukraine. Under the scheme, regular residents in Britain can sponsor Ukrainian nationals to live at their homes for a minimum of six months.
The UNHCR said that it had received an increasing number of reports of Ukrainian women feeling they were at risk from male sponsors. The UN body suggested that women and mothers with children should be matched with couples or families rather than being housed 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.
UK government sure of hosting scheme
UNHCR added it was mainly worried about the consequences that could ensue if a host should prove to be a threat, and that the minimum six-month duration was also cause for concern.
"Housing a stranger in an extra bedroom for an extended period is not, for some people, sustainable," the agency said, highlighting that the need for background checks and providing financial support was overwhelming local authorities, which are often already stretched to their limit in Britain's public sector.
UNHCR said on Twitter that it is generally worried about the welfare of women and children fleeing Ukraine in particular, facing serious risks by predators.
The UK government responded that people housing and sponsoring refugees coming from Ukraine had received background checks and had been paid 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.
Some 43,600 applications have been made under the scheme despite the fact that only about 12,500 visas have been issued to Ukrainian nationals seeking to come to the UK. Applicants have said that the process of obtaining a place to stay under scheme was proving slow and complicated, partly due to British security checks on Ukrainians coming to the UK.
Reports of abuse elsewhere in Europe, too
Similar reports of exploitative situations have also surfaced elsewhere in Europe, as millions of Ukrainian refugees made their way west in the past two months. Last month, Berlin police have received tip-offs about dubious accommodation offers given to refugee women and young people arriving at the main train station.
Thousands of young people end up being exploited, abused, abducted and trafficked annually as strangers offer alleged opportunities to them ranging from accommodation and employment to access to migration routes.