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Women refugees at risk under Homes for Ukraine scheme

Human Trafficking
4 May 2022
Ukraine people fleeing

Ukrainian women are at risk of harm due to problems with the UK Government's Homes for Ukraine scheme, an investigation by the BBC has found.

The broadcaster points to various, unregulated groups on Facebook where "predatory" men are offering accommodation to refugees. Whilst some charities have tried to match applicants with potential hosts, many refugees are using informal social media groups.

On one Facebook group, BBC News found a would-be sponsor who appears to live in a one-bedroom flat posting multiple offers to host young women. Another man, in Manchester, had joined several Facebook groups and was offering a spare room to a string of young, single, Ukrainian women.

A whistleblower with knowledge of the Homes for Ukraine scheme told the BBC in some local authorities, as many as 30% of all registered would-be sponsors are single men over 40. The majority of these individuals are offering to host single women in their 20s and 30s.

CARE raised the alarm about deficiencies in the Homes for Ukraine scheme in early March. On 4 March, CARE's trafficking policy expert Lauren Agnew she told the Daily Record:

“It is heartening to see the generous response from people across Scotland, keen to open up their homes and look after refugees.

"Unfortunately, there are some concerns associated with the Homes for Ukraine scheme, which could be abused by those with malign intentions. There is an industry of human trafficking and modern slavery in the UK and criminals will be viewing the influx of Ukrainian refugees as an opportunity to turn a profit. Both governments have a responsibility to act.

"Already, unregulated groups and accounts are springing up on social media. Human traffickers can masquerade on these sites as genuine individuals wanting to help when in reality they are online to ‘shop’ for their next victims to exploit. How can Ukrainians know groups or individuals presenting on social media are genuine and safe?"

Ms Agnew also explored the issue in an article for Politics Home. Describing the risks posed to refugees, she suggested a serious of actions to ensure their safety in the long term:

"Getting Ukrainian refugees to safety shouldn’t be the end of the story. Local authorities will be tasked with ensuring the continued welfare of refugees. It is vital that checks carried out at the local level are consistent, and that training is provided on modern slavery. Refugees must not fall off the radar if they move location. We call on ministers to take account of this.

"There can be no doubt that the Homes for Ukraine scheme is well-motivated, and it has the potential to help a great many people. However, it is essential government gets it right. Vulnerable individuals escaping war cannot be allowed to fall into the hands of those who would exploit them."

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