Predatory men are exploiting the Homes for Ukraine refugee scheme to host single and vulnerable women fleeing Putin’s invasion, with ‘30% of sponsors in the UK being men over 40’, an investigation has found.
Men with domestic abuse or violence records have reportedly messaged single Ukrainian women in their 20s and 30s on Facebook groups specially set up to connect sponsors and hosts.
Some refugees have even become homeless after relations with hosts broke down or because housing was not well vetted.
Other homes have been found to be completely unsuitable for Ukrainians escaping Russian bombs, with one mother-of-two claiming that her whole family had been expected to sleep in one small reception room next to the kitchen – despite expecting separate bedrooms.
She added that the property was filled with Nazi pictures and Soviet symbols, telling the BBC: ‘I don’t feel safe’.
A charity head branded the Homes for Ukraine scheme ‘dangerous’ and said she was ‘shocked by the absence of safeguarding checks’.
It comes after the UN’s refugee agency last month warned of ‘increasing reports of Ukrainian women feeling at risk from their sponsors’. The UNHCR called for ‘the need for adequate safeguards and vetting measures to be in place against exploitation, as well as adequate support for sponsors’.
A Polish border policeman carries the luggage of a Ukrainian refugee as she holds her baby at the Kroscienko border crossing, eastern Poland, April 7, 2022
The official Homes for Ukraine poster. It stresses: ‘Providing a safe home in the UK’
Boris Johnson’s Government announced in March that the scheme would allow anyone in England to host a family or individual, if they agreed to housing and criminal-records checks.
In response, local support networks and individuals set up numerous Facebook groups – and these have become one of the main ways of connecting Ukrainian families and British sponsors.
And it is thought that some councils are struggling with a lack of resources to properly settled refugees.
A UK Government official told the BBC that safeguards were in place, including ‘Home Office security and background checks on all sponsors, before visas are issued’, and at least one council visit to a sponsor’s property.
On one Facebook group set up to help match Ukrainian refugees, BBC News found a would-be sponsor who appears to live in a one-bedroom flat posting multiple offers to host young women. It is claimed he had multiple convictions, including for burglary and affray.
Police records reportedly show that he was reported for allegedly carrying a crossbow and threatening a former partner, although no further action is believed to have been taken.
Another man, in Manchester, joined several Facebook groups and was offering a spare room to a string of young, single, Ukrainian women. He was also a member of a dating site called Single Ukrainian Women.
Ukrainians flee to the west of Ukraine and to Poland by train from Odessa to Przemysl at the railway station in Odessa, Ukraine, April 25, 2022
It is not known whether either of these men was approved under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
Councils are meant to approve each property and complete Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks on all potential hosts they know about, including those who make contact via Facebook. But the basic DBS checks are limited, and enhanced checks are requested only if there are children involved.
One source claimed that a basic DBS check had raised no concerns about a man in his 50s offering to host a young Ukrainian woman. But whenstaff performed a more detailed check of social services records they found multiple complaints against him, including for domestic abuse.
One post from a volunteer helping new arrivals said: ‘I was contacted by a young woman who had arrived on Saturday. She wanted to change hosts. I asked what the issue was and she sent me videos. The home wouldn’t pass an inspection to rehome a dog.’
The refugee, who asked not to be named, added: ‘She is a kind person but her house is a very big cluster of mess. There are many repairs needed. I couldn’t go in the kitchen. I couldn’t live here.’
Mira Kozlowska, who is Polish but lived in the UK for 21 years, is offering to support a refugee in her own home. She is currently helping to match others with suitable sponsors on social media.
She told the BBC: ‘Just now, I saw a post about how the sponsor wants the family to be out all day and not in the house. Another girl was talking about how she didn’t even have a door on her room and no privacy.’
Another newly arrived refugee said: ‘When we arrive, there is no bed, just a mattress on the floor. The apartment is cold and when I put on the heater he shouts. There is no food in the kitchen and we have no money.’
Robina Qureshi, chief executive of Positive Action in Housing, called the scheme ‘dangerous’ and the findings ‘deeply concerning and undermine the sponsorship programme’.