Anti-trafficking charities say “red flags could be missed” in the vetting of potential hosts under the new programme, which will see people in the UK paid £350 per month to host refugees who have fled the Russian invasion.
Experts said they were “certain” that some people in the UK will view the scheme as an “opportunity to turn a profit at the expense of vulnerable individuals” – and that thorough checks must be carried out.
The programme was launched today by cabinet minister Michael Gove, with a website set up to express interest in being a sponsor and the process of matching hosts to refugees to begin from Friday.
But campaigners urged caution over the scheme, warning that vulnerable people could end up being exploited by those who have offered to host them unless the government commits to “rigorous” safeguarding measures, including follow-up checks.
Lauren Agnew, human trafficking policy expert at Care (Christian Action Research and Education), said that while the scheme was “well-motivated and could benefit a great number of individuals”, the logistics of it had to be “weighed carefully”.
The Independent is raising money for the people of Ukraine – if you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.
She continued: “With large numbers of applications needing to be processed quickly, red flags could be missed in the vetting of potential hosts.
“We can be certain that some of this number will be seeing the Homes for Ukraine scheme as an opportunity to turn a profit at the expense of vulnerable individuals seeking refuge in the UK.
“Setting refugees up in homes around the UK is not the end of the story. There must be follow-up checks to ensure these individuals are not being exploited. We must remember that refugees are extremely vulnerable. They must not be allowed to fall off the radar.”
Daniel Sohege, director of pro-bono consultancy Stand For All, said the new scheme raised “a number of concerns” with the scheme, with the most significant risk being that it “increases the danger of refugees being exploited and even trafficked”.
“We already see how a failure to provide proper specialist support puts, particularly children, at risk in hotels. This seems to multiply the issue,” he said.
“Organisations that currently ‘match’ refugees to potential homes conduct multiple checks. The speed and scale of this scheme means it is nigh on impossible to properly carry out those checks.”
Recent statistics from the National Crime Agency estimate there are at least 6,000-8,000 modern slavery offenders in the UK.
The government has said each host will be checked against the police national computer for security concerns, and that refugees will be registered with GPs and schools, where safeguarding checks will be carried out.
The Independent understands that the new scheme will require all hosts to put forward the names of refugees they can sponsor, and is anticipating that charities will come forward and offer to facilitate the matching process.
Charities have warned that the need to put forward names could lead to Ukrainian refugees without links to the UK being “excluded” from the programme.
The Home Office’s Ukraine family scheme – a separate route which launched on 4 March – has so far issued 4,400 visas out of 32,400 applications that have been opened, meaning the UK is falling far short of the numbers of Ukrainians that other European countries have welcomed.
The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies