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UN refugee agency raises concerns over risks to women in UK’s Homes For Ukraine scheme

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The United Nations refugee agency has raised concerns about the Homes For Ukraine scheme in the UK.

The scheme allows British people to host Ukrainian refugees, even if they have no previous ties to the UK.

Anyone with a room or home available for at least six months can offer it to a Ukrainian individual or a family, with hosts being vetted and Ukrainian refugees undergoing security checks.

But the UNHCR said it is aware of “increasing reports” of female refugees feeling at risk from male sponsors, adding that women, and mothers with children should be matched with couples or families, instead of with single men.

In a statement, the agency said: “UNHCR highlights the need for adequate safeguards and vetting measures to be in place against exploitation, as well as adequate support for sponsors.

“Matching done without the appropriate oversight may lead to increasing the risks women may face, in addition to the trauma of displacement, family separation and violence already experienced.”

The UNHCR also said it was concerned about what would happen if a host presented a danger to a refugee, and about the six-month commitment required of hosts.

“Housing a stranger in an extra bedroom for an extended period is not, for some people, sustainable,” it said.

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Ukrainian refugees are frustrated by UK scheme

Refugees left homeless after relationships with sponsors break down

Last week, councils warned that there had been a “concerning increase” in the number of Ukrainian refugees arriving in the UK but then becoming homeless after the relationship with their sponsors broke down.

It is understood that this has happened in dozens of cases, with local authorities having to find emergency accommodation for refugees while they wait for a new sponsor.

Concerns were previously raised that desperate refugees were turning to social media to find sponsors, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation or human traffickers.

In March, Sky News reported that predators were using the chaos of the war to snatch young Ukrainian children to sell to gangs in Europe, also forcing desperate women – many of whom had to leave partners behind in Ukraine – into slavery and prostitution.

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Refugees flee occupied Kherson

A government-backed matching programme was launched two weeks after the scheme in an effort to address this, as well as providing training, and carrying out initial eligibility and safeguarding checks.

A government spokeswoman said: “Attempts to exploit vulnerable people are truly despicable – this is why we have designed the Homes for Ukraine scheme to have specific safeguards in place, including robust security and background checks on all sponsors by the Home Office and local authorities.

“Councils must make at least one in-person visit to a sponsor’s property and they have a duty to make sure the guest is safe and well once they’ve arrived.”

Government figures show that as of 7 April, 43,600 Ukrainians have applied to come to the UK under the scheme, but just 12,500 have been granted visas, with some of those waiting criticising the system as slow and difficult.

More than 200,000 people in Britain have applied to host refugees under the scheme.

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