The government’s Homes for Ukraine refugee scheme has officially opened for applications, after more than 138,000 Britons registered their interest in hosting in the first day after the website went live.
People have said how much they want to help: whether that’s donating money or emergency supplies, or hosting a refugee for six months.
But, it hasn’t been easy. Despite the urgency of the situation, the government has provided little practical advice or support for those offering to open their homes.
‘The government hasn’t done much to support people’
Jade Connor, who has registered to host a refugee, told us how complicated the process had been.
“It’s not been the easiest to try and help, I don’t feel the government has done very much to support people,” she says.
“But in the absence of official help, people have come together across the UK amazingly.
“The Facebook groups especially, that I’m a part of, the moderators on those, the administrators are working pretty much 24/7, and they’re just volunteers trying to match people from Ukraine.”
Volunteers are using Google translate to bridge the language barrier, and arranging video calls to meet each other, when the internet in Ukraine allows, which is another challenge.
Without much official communication, concerns have spread among would-be hosts about the need for DBS checks, or that the visa process, about which they still have very little information, may be delayed.
But, the online community has rallied round.
“Different people all asking the same sort of questions are all grouping together to find answers: finding out how we get flights, how we get trains, how we can organise Eurostar tickets,” Jade says.
‘It’s a very emotional process’
Jade lives with her partner, her mother and her grandmother.
She only has one spare room, and can’t take a whole family fleeing.
She has struggled to find someone traveling alone who she can help.
“At the moment there have been a lot of people who have been bigger families wanting places to stay,” she says. “We’ve only got a spare room so that wouldn’t be suitable for us.
“But we have recently made contact with a young girl who’s in Lviv. She’s 23. She’s travelled there with her parents and her brothers but unfortunately they’re staying to be in the war.”
Jade breaks down in tears, as she tells us: “It’s a very emotional process. She’s very scared, very nervous. We’re currently trying to support her through the process of getting a visa.
“And then she’s very scared to leave [her family] in Lviv and the fact she’ll then be on her own.
“So I’m actually trying to connect with another lady in the UK, who has contact with another 20-year-old who is looking to make the same journey. So hopefully we can connect them and they can make the journey together.
“We are waiting, we’ve got flights on standby, and the page bookmarked, but we are waiting until we’ve completed the visa form.
“I don’t know how long until we get approval, but as soon as that goes ahead we’ll be looking to welcome her over here.”
Jade has thrown herself into preparations while they wait.
She’ll be giving up her office and turning it into a bedroom.
“My mum has launched into her interior designer mode,” she says. “We’re painting the room this weekend.
“We’re also looking to put in place a welcome pack for her, so we want to make sure she’s got some really nice pyjamas, loads of nice snuggly clothes.”
Jade’s even looking for local music groups and choirs to help their musical refugee adjust.
“We’ve also got a spare laptop we’re going to make sure we can configure so she can use that,” she says.
“And we’ve got a guide to the area we’ve started writing.
“So it’s got all the things locally to us, but we are hoping we’ll be able to take her out and show her.”
There’s one further complication, Jade says, in getting a room ready for their refugee.
“It does mean we have to evacuate the dog that normally sleeps in here,” she says. “Unless obviously our new friend wants some doggy snuggles! That might be nice for her.”
It’s perhaps not surprising there have been difficulties with a programme the government put together so quickly, but Jade is hopeful it will be easier for new hosts to sign up.
“It’s been difficult. It’s been quite emotionally difficult as well,” she says, “[but] it is getting into a lot more of a rhythm now so I’m hoping that people will get matched a lot quicker and a lot easier than the process we had to go through.”