Britons hosting Ukrainians who fled to the UK say they are “worried” about the future and where refugees will live after the six-month commitment required by the government’s “Homes for Ukraine” scheme ends—as it is about to for many.
Under the official refugee programme, British sponsors, or hosts, had to commit to house Ukrainians for up to six months.
By mid-August this year more than 115,000 people had come to the UK through the sponsorship or family schemes.
But as the war continues beyond its seventh month, the cost-of-living crisis in Britain—with record-high inflation only just beginning to ease, runaway energy prices, and home mortgages spiralling—is prompting some hosts to think again.
Nor is there a clear alternative.
Private rental accommodation where refugees could become independent is in high demand.
“There’s such pressure on rental properties at the moment,” parish councillor Matthew Copeland told The Epoch Times. “We know someone who had 30 people apply for one place.”
Copeland is hosting a Ukrainian couple at his home in Sussex on the south coast of England.
Also a deputy church warden, Copeland calls the couple matched with his family by the local church his “guests.”
Before coming to Britain, the guests had first escaped to Bulgaria after three people were killed in a neighbouring apartment block 300 metres (328 yards) from their own when it was hit by a Russian shell.
Now, in the small seaside resort seemingly a world away from the war, their smartphone has an air-raid warning app that can tell if a military or civil aircraft is flying over the English parish.
Back home in Ukraine, before the invasion, Copeland says his female guest managed an apartment block and the man was a college lecturer—but now does a manual job rising at 6 a.m. every day—and works hard, he adds.
At the same time, Copeland says he has had to adjust his idea of what a “refugee” is.
His guests, in their 50s, are from the professional class. He now recognises, he says, that it is the more “affluent,” the more informed and worldly—those who speak better English—who get to escape.
He is worried for those less able to navigate the visa system of a country like Britain and worried for those who did, now here.
With some 30 families hosting refugees in the neighbourhood and no end in sight to the war, Copeland and others in his church have come together to look for solutions.
Copeland is not alone when he says he is unable to extend hospitality. For some this is because of other commitments. Finding new hosts might appear to offer an answer, “but we know there is very limited hosting for someone coming across,” he says.
That leaves refugees applying for emergency “bed and breakfast” accommodation from the local council.
Domenica Pecoraro, the Church of England’s refugee project officer in Kent, told The Epoch Times Ukrainian families can identify themselves as homeless to their local government authority, or move to another area with more housing.
But she is worried about the effect of such a nomadic existence on children.
“They have just settled in their new school, maybe they’ve joined a sports club or an arts group. Then everything starts again, somewhere else.”
Or, as Copeland says, refugees can compete with everyone else trying to rent somewhere.
It’s a “Catch-22,” says host Bea Lewkowicz as she points out refugees also need a “guarantor” to rent from a private landlord.
Lewkowicz is director of the Testimony Archive of the Association of Jewish Refugees in London, a group with special responsibility for helping Ukrainian refugees who are also Holocaust survivors.
“I have recorded many many stories of people coming to England in the ’30s or survivors post-war,” Lewkowicz told The Epoch Times. “My parents were camp survivors. My mother escaped communism in ’64, my father in ’58. So I’ve grown up with this thing. You’ve survived. You’ve escaped another country and you really need people to help you. I thought, what can I do?”
She took in three women from the same family—a Ukrainian grandmother, mother, and daughter—the oldest and the youngest of whom, she says, have health issues.
Like many other Jews, Lewkowicz empathises. Many remember their forebears who fled pogroms in Eastern Europe when Ukraine was still part of imperial Russia.
“I’ve tried to help as much as I can, but now I’m very worried,” said Lewkowicz. “The six months are coming to an end. This is not only for my guest family but for everyone else.”
She said hosting relationships have broken down, with some refugees being asked how much heating they use or how much cooking they do.
Generosity Under Strain
The success of families continuing to host amid the current financial crises depends on two things, said psychotherapist Patrick Baron.
“As long as there is reciprocity and the contract of reciprocity is being honoured, I think there’s a great deal people will be ready to do.
“If someone is very generous, that needs to be recognised or acknowledged or it could come to an end.”
The other issue is “if they see the others as the cause of their misery. Even if it’s far-fetched, if people genuinely believe we have the energy crisis because of the situation in Ukraine, they might not be generous,” Baron told The Epoch Times.
Lewkowicz thinks with all Britain’s current woes a limitless capacity for compassion will be difficult. “Having said that, as we saw with people who took in Kindertransport during World War Two, they stayed with them for many years.
“But now it’s not only financial. There is a limit for how long two different families can stay together in a shared space—from both the host and refugee side.”
Pecoraro hopes Britons will carry on being generous. “You know it’s very easy to respond when you’re in a position to give,” she said. “But it’s an act of love when things are difficult.”
It would also be wonderful to see a government initiative providing security to landlords to help the refugees, said Pecoraro.
The only other option Copeland says he and his fellows have identified is to return to Eastern Europe and a country sympathetic to Ukraine—surely a last resort for those trying to rebuild their lives in Britain.
But in some cases, it is already happening, he added.