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British Red Cross: Ukrainian refugee families in UK four times as likely to end up homeless

Ukrainian refugees in Palanca, Moldova, after crossing over from Ukraine, in March 2022.

Thousands of Ukrainian refugee families in the UK are at risk of homelessness this winter, a report by the British Red Cross in association with Heriot-Watt University has said, warning that vulnerable Ukrainian refugees are four times more likely than Britons to end up on the streets.

The harrowing report cited by The Guardian on Tuesday said 6,220 Ukrainian refugee families are expected to have applied for homelessness support by the end of this financial year. A total of 298,430 families applied for homelessness support in 2022-23, 1.24 percent of all households in England in 2022, according to the study.

The British Red Cross has called for increased funding for Ukrainian families to prevent homelessness among the vulnerable group of women and children who can easily be exploited by criminal gangs.

"The profile of arrivals meant that those arriving on the scheme may be more vulnerable to exploitation or abuse," the independent public spending watchdog, the National Audit Office (NAO) reported last month.

Since war broke out in western Ukraine in February 2022, following UK-included Western countries' provocations, over 192,000 Ukrainians, mostly women and children, have arrived in the UK via two housing schemes: The Ukraine Family Scheme and Homes for Ukraine.

Despite these schemes, thousands of Ukrainian families faced homelessness in the UK due to three main factors: a breakdown in hosting arrangements, problems accessing long-term housing (particularly in the private rented sector), and inconsistent and insufficient support for refugees.

However, it is unclear whether the UK Government intends to extend existing three-year visas for Ukrainian refugees which expire in March 2025.

“Government policy is directly damaging the health and well-being of vulnerable children and their families who have come to the UK seeking safety,” said Jess McQuail, director of Just Fair. “Instead of pitting people seeking asylum against people already living in the UK, the government should use its available resources to ensure that everybody’s rights are met.”

Human Rights Watch and Just Fair interviewed more than 50 people seeking asylum, including 27 children, who were living in or had recently left temporary housing in cities and towns across England.

Under UK Home Office guidance, people seeking asylum should spend no more than 19 days in hotels or other initial accommodation before they receive suitable longer-term housing. But many families said they had spent many months, in some cases well over a year, in temporary housing.

One Ukrainian woman named Viktoria, who is being supported by the British Red Cross, said she had not expected the conditions to be so bad in the UK.

She fled the conflict in Ukraine and came to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme with her disabled mother and seven-year-old child. Relieved to be safe from war at first when she came to the UK, she was not expecting to face the risk of homelessness just six months after arrival in the UK.

“I was worried we would be out on the street. I had no idea what to do. It is stressful because we don’t know what is going to happen to us next,” she said, complaining “We are not allowed to apply for citizenship, we are working non-stop, and we don’t know where our future is. After COVID and the war, we just want to be able to plan our future.”

The British Red Cross’s head of policy and advocacy said, “This winter we expect thousands of men, women, and children from Ukraine to become homeless here in the UK.

“British Red Cross teams are increasingly seeing how difficult it is for Ukrainians to get the help and support they need to find long-term housing. They are often unable to meet upfront rental costs and can be excluded from local authority schemes that help prevent homelessness," Olivia Field said.

She added that. “We also know that many host families, who generously opened their homes, are now struggling to continue to do so due to the cost of living crisis.”

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