Since our formation in 2005, we have been working to build a movement of welcome across the UK for people seeking sanctuary.
The announcement of the Homes for Ukraine scheme brings with it as of yet unanswered questions and some serious concerns, but it also represents an opportunity to fast-track our vision of a truly welcoming UK. City of Sanctuary UK will work with partners to support the scheme where we can, whilst harnessing this movement moment to further build mainstream support for all people seeking sanctuary.
Disappointingly, the lack of notice or detail on how the scheme will work has left the sector scrambling to respond. Alongside significant safeguarding concerns, we are worried that this scheme will not pick up on the most vulnerable people, those unable to access technology or without connections to those who can help them find a sponsor.
In addition to this, this scheme risks undermining the Refugee Convention, as refugees do not need visas nor sponsors to enter a country to claim asylum. We also state in the strongest terms that if an effective hosting scheme is in place, then it must be open to everyone fleeing war and persecution.
After fighting the Nationality and Borders bill for nearly a year, we are also incredibly concerned that this scheme will give the government an opportunity to pick and choose who is worthy of compassion. With this scheme, they are supporting Ukrainian refugees, whilst criminalising others.
This is unjust and wrong. If this government expects this sector to do the lion’s share of the work on the Ukrainian scheme, then the Nationality and Borders bill must be scrapped.
We will continue to fight this bill and use this moment of public support for refugees to draw more people’s attention to the bill’s unfairness and cruelty.
Many people seeking sanctuary supported by our networks have been housed in hotels or ex-military barracks. We know how damaging accomodation like this can be. We have always called for people to be housed in the community, and are relieved to see this acknowledged in the Ukraine scheme. But it only works when it’s done safely.
Many groups and individuals within the sector, as well as the City of Sanctuary networks, have experience in hosting and supporting the resettlement of people seeking sanctuary – there is a lot of expertise that can be used to guide this new scheme. In particular, we will work with the City of Sanctuary Local Authority network to support them to lead the way in terms of best practice of welcoming and supporting new arrivals.
We will continue to work to coordinate and support everyone stepping up to welcome all refugees.
We are currently organising a series of webinars to share information and best practice, including an event to support people considering hosting: the practicalities such as house insurance, mortgage etc, as well as the emotional factors such as language barriers or supporting someone with complex trauma. Hosting is a significant commitment, and we urge people to properly reflect on their ability to take on such a responsibility.
We recognise that our networks are large and all groups have differing capacities – many are already extremely stretched. There is of course no mandate from us to get involved with the scheme. Although we do encourage everyone involved in our networks to always consider our network principle of working collaboratively. Potentially this might be difficult at first as new groups and organisations emerge, but there is space for everyone – there is so much work to be done to welcome people arriving into the UK. Only a wide, strong and collaborative movement will bring about the changes we want to see for all people seeking sanctuary in the UK.
The Government’s phase one of the visa application route will be opened on Friday for sponsors and named contacts to apply. The third sector and faith groups will be supporting the matching. We will update our networks when more information is available.
This is going to be a herculean undertaking, and so much is still unclear. But we will rise to this occasion. We will make welcome widespread.