UN tells UK to protect female Ukrainian refugees
The UN’s agency for refugees has called on the UK authorities to fix the matching process in its Homes for Ukraine program after reports claiming that some British men tried using the scheme to sexually exploit lone female Ukrainian refugees.
“A more appropriate matching process could be put in place by ensuring that women and women with children are matched with families or couples, rather than with single men,” a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told The Guardian on Wednesday.
Allowing female refugees to move into British homes “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,” he pointed out.
The Homes for Ukraine scheme was launched in mid-March to help Ukrainians fleeing the conflict find temporary housing in the UK. It allows individuals and entities to become a sponsor and nominate single refugees or a whole family to live with them under a single roof or at a separate property. One can’t apply for a UK visa without having a sponsor inside the country.
A government-backed matching service as part of Homes for Ukraine started operating just over a week ago and before that the sponsors and their guests had to connect by themselves, using social media.
Many British citizens applied for the program with a desire to help, but reports also emerged of some men offering Ukrainian females shelter in exchange for sex, asking them to send pictures, and lying about their wealth and living conditions to lure the women in.
Such developments were met with of lot of criticism by British charities, with Louise Calvey, the head of safeguarding at Refugee Action, warning the program was at risk of effectively becoming “Tinder for sex traffickers."
Her colleague from Positive Action in Housing, Robina Qureshi, said she was in "visceral shock" from how Homes for Ukraine was implemented. Any regulator would've immediately shut down such a scheme if it was run by an NGO instead of the government, she added.
A UK government spokesman responded to the request by UNHCR by saying that “attempts to exploit vulnerable people are truly despicable.” He assured The Guardian that Homes for Ukraine was designed “to have specific safeguards in place, including robust security and background checks on all sponsors, both by the Home Office and local authorities.”
Fears of sexual exploitation isn't the only problem plaguing Homes for Ukraine. According to the UNHCR, more than 4.6 million Ukrainians have fled the country after the beginning of the conflict in late February. But only 12,000 of them have so far been able to get into Britain. Priti Patel, the home secretary, apologized on Friday for the time it had taken for Ukrainian refugees to arrive in the country.
Russia launched a large-scale offensive against Ukraine following Kiev's failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements signed in 2014, and Russia's eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French brokered Minsk Protocol was designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.
Moscow has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two rebel regions by force.