The Catholic Social Action Network (CSAN) has received many enquiries from members of the public and Catholic organisations asking how they can help people caught up in the war in Ukraine. The following resource is addressed mainly to the Catholic community in England and Wales, offering some answers on how to help.
The United Nations estimates there are eight million internally displaced persons in Ukraine and six million refugees have fled to other countries (May 2022). Many of these refugees wish to remain as close as possible to Ukraine or to join with family and friends in states with which they have a connection.
Many thousands of refugees are looking to come to the UK, either due to family or personal ties, because they can speak English (which is a widely spoken second language in Ukraine), or because they believe it represents a safe and secure refuge. The level of support required may differ from other recent refugee movements to the UK. For example, while many of those who were forced to flee Afghanistan or Syria have little prospect of ever being able to return to the land of their birth and so are seeking a permanent home in the UK, many Ukrainians leaving the current conflict are likely to hope to return home once peace is restored. The vast majority of refugees who have left Ukraine are women and children, which poses safeguarding concerns. In addition to guidance on safeguarding in the Catholic Church in England and Wales, coordinated through the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency, we have signposted resources for identifying victims of human trafficking and modern slavery on the CSAN website.
According to the UK Government, the 2021 Census in England and Wales identified approximately 37,530 people who were born in Ukraine and were “usual residents” in England and Wales in March 2021. Other estimates put the number somewhere between 20-50,000 Ukrainian nationals in the UK before the war started. Part of the reason for the variance is that many of these Ukrainians are in the UK on temporary visas, particularly on seasonal worker visas in the agricultural sector, and as students.
This is a difficult and worrying time for Ukrainians living in England and Wales. We encourage churches and individuals to provide pastoral help where it is needed. The UK Government has made changes to the visa system to help those who are already here and prevent uncertainties about what might happen to them once their visa expires.
If you know or work with Ukrainians in this situation, particularly those on skilled or seasonal worker visas, or student visas, you can direct them to the latest government guidance. Most Ukrainians ought to be eligible for a free visa extension until at least 31 December 2022. However, this is subject to meeting terms and conditions attached to the visa. Do encourage people to apply early for visa extensions, as becoming an ‘overstayer’ (staying beyond the terms of the visa without permission) can affect their rights and future ability to visit the UK. As many Ukrainians are on visas with no recourse to public funds, they are vulnerable to changes in their employment or personal situation. If you are concerned that a Ukrainian is being exploited, or is in danger of being exploited, you may wish to report this. You can report it to the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700. If someone is in immediate danger, call 999.
The UK Government’s 'Homes for Ukraine' scheme opened on 18 March 2022. This allows UK households – individuals and families – to commit to sponsoring a Ukrainian household in their home. The members of this household must be named in the application.
Ukrainians who arrive on this scheme have leave to remain for up to three years and full access to the labour market, the NHS and to some state benefits.
Volunteer hosts (sponsors) who sign up will have to commit to accommodating for at least six months and will not be able to charge for rent, but will be able to receive an optional ‘thank you’ tax-free payment of £350 a month from the sponsor’s local authority. This figure is the same regardless of the number of refugees hosted. People in receipt of state benefits may apply to be a host.
Hosting is based on the principle of hospitality: extending warmth and welcome to a guest. Hosting should be like inviting any other guest to stay at your house or in your community. In hosting a refugee guest, you’re committing to offering a safe and secure place to stay, facilities to wash, and somewhere to cook and eat.
Potential hosts should be fully aware of what they are being asked to do, and whether this is something that they are able to commit to. You will need to consider the impact that offering a room in your home could have on your life and what it may take to support someone. We recommend that any potential host researches the support that people fleeing conflict may need and what is available in their area, or build connections locally to offer support prior to sponsoring, for example with a local refugee action group and/or a charity that works with refugees and asylum seekers. There are anecdotal reports of a relatively high rate of breakdown in arrangements between host households and refugees who have no prior connection and ‘found’ each other online outside the Government’s recognised matching services.
Most refugees want to be in towns and cities with good access to employment opportunities and transport links.
Some of the people fleeing from Ukraine will have suffered recent intense trauma. They have fled their homes, livelihoods and likely left family members behind in a situation of extreme uncertainty and danger. You should be prepared for the possibility of the refugee(s) you are hosting experiencing psychological trauma which may require medical attention.
There may also be language and cultural barriers – some of which may be immediately obvious, others may take time to learn and get to know. English language support will likely vary across England and Wales.
Sponsoring hosts in the Homes for Ukraine scheme are not expected to provide specialist support to guests. Sponsors are required to maintain suitable accommodation for a minimum of 6 months, signpost the guest to public services, and assist them with tasks such as registering with a local GP surgery. Sponsors with a mortgage should check with the lender for further guidance. Sponsors should notify their insurers they will be hosting guests from Ukraine, prior to their arrival – see guidance from Association of British Insurers. For more on the role of sponsors, see the UK Government guidance.
The main steps towards hosting are as follows:
1. Sponsor and guest find each other and agree to a match. There is no single route to matching, and both the sponsor and guest could use a number of channels to find a match. They could for example already have a relationship in place with a friend in the UK/Ukraine, they could be friends of friends, or could find a sponsor or guest through a charity or other channel. The Reset charity, which already works with the Home Office on community sponsorship of refugees, has set up a matching service to connect refugees and hosts for Homes for Ukraine. You can register to host and be matched with a Ukrainian refugee on Reset’s website.
2. Either the guest or sponsor apply for a visa using both parties’ details – see the UK Government website.
3. After the application is submitted, security checks are undertaken. Enhanced checks of all adult members of the host household will be made by the local authority with the Disclosure and Barring Service. The Ukrainians will also need to pass security checks. Local authorities will conduct checks on the standard of accommodation being offered, for example on heating, water, access to bathroom and kitchen facilities, and smoke detection.
4. Once both sponsor and guest have passed the checks, the Home Office will issue the guest with a decision and more details on travel.
5. The guest can then travel to the UK. Sponsors should stay in regular contact with their guest prior to their arrival to help organise and coordinate their arrival in the UK, meet them on arrival, and facilitate transfer to their accommodation.
6. Specific councils will provide welcome arrangements for guests, with additional immediate support provided to guests where it is required. Guests will be entitled to an ‘interim payment’ of £200 from the local authority where the sponsor’s accommodation is located, which the guest does not need to repay. Councils can also top-up this payment. The UK Government has published more information about support for refugees to travel from outside and within the UK, and the duties of local authorities to support Ukrainian refugees in their area.
The UK Government has published answers to frequently asked questions about the scheme:
Reset has published a full guide to the scheme (pdf).
Further resources on supporting and hosting refugees, and contacts, are signposted on CSAN's website.
In the war region, our Caritas national sister agencies are helping people directly. CAFOD, as a member of the Disasters Emergency Committee in the UK, is part of their joint appeal, from which those Caritas sister agencies will benefit. They have specifically asked for financial assistance rather than donations of goods.
CAFOD is leading and coordinating that appeal in England and Wales on behalf of our sister national Caritas agencies working in, and on the borders of Ukraine. CAFOD can accept, process and quickly transfer donations to our partners who can then focus on delivering the much-needed assistance. Through CAFOD, the Catholic community of England and Wales can give practical assistance in and around Ukraine. Caritas sister organisations in Ukraine (Caritas Spes and Caritas Ukraine) and in neighbouring countries are already helping people who are affected.
To support CAFOD’s appeal for relief work in the war region, please click here.
To support CSAN’s work extending the Catholic Church’s responses to the cost of living crisis and for refugees in England and Wales, please click here.