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How Housing Refugees Has Affected Both Brits And Ukrainians

Poppy Bilderbeck

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| Last updated 

How Housing Refugees Has Affected Both Brits And Ukrainians

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has declared around 200,000 Ukrainian refugees will be eligible to come to the UK, with the number expected to rise.

With two major schemes in action, refugees are expected to stay with host families for six months. Whether they'll be able to return back to Ukraine, or what they'll do in the UK if they decide to stay, is yet to be ascertained.

While the government relies on the generosity and kindness of British people to offer shelter to those who have been displaced – by mid-March more than 100,000 Brits had offered to take refugees in under the 'Homes for Ukraine' scheme – what is being done to support hosts and refugees so the process goes as smoothly as possible?

What is being done in preparation for if – or more likely when – their stay lasts more than six months? To make sure tensions don't arise from a difficult language barrier? And to give more support to the cost of living crisis that will affect both Brits and refugees?

LADbible spoke to two hosts and one Ukrainian refugee about how the cost of living crisis could add to an already unstable situation.

The UK announced it would open its doors to around 200,000 Ukrainian refugees. Credit: Alamy
The UK announced it would open its doors to around 200,000 Ukrainian refugees. Credit: Alamy

Kate, who lives in the London Borough of Wandsworth, was one of the first people in the area to take in Ukrainian refugees – a mother and her two young children.

Kate's financial position meant she had the opportunity to go through the Family Visa Scheme, which doesn't offer £350 a month like the Homes For Ukraine Scheme.

She noted her 'privileged position' in having a second house to be able to leave her family to their own space and devices.

Kate's refugee family also have relatives who have been taken in by another host located nearby, which has been extremely helpful in making her refugee family feel supported.

Kate said there is 'a lot of admin' involved in the process, "So you have to get a UK bank account. And then mobiles, UK sims, universal credit, child benefits, sort school places..." she said.

However, working freelance has enabled her to 'juggle things more easily'. Local residents have also been 'very generous' donating clothes, toys and money to the family.

"I think our two families are benefiting from being the first two who have arrived in our local area," Kate said.

However, she also said the process felt 'clunky'. "We’re the luckiest ones in the luckiest situation already. Our Ukrainian family have a family network, we have space, we’re not there half the time and yet it’s been difficult for us."

The most problematic factor, according to Kate, has been the language barrier, which could also pose the greatest risk for the refugees' future in the UK.

Not only has Kate found that all administrative forms are only supplied in English – which her family can't understand, making them more dependent on her – she also says the language barrier could cause tension between host families and refugees when the British culture of frequently expressing one's gratitude isn't echoed by Ukrainians.

She said: "I was given an information sheet by a Ukrainian speaker who said the English say please and thank you all the time, and Ukrainians don’t do that. It’s because they just don’t see any need to do it.

"I mean Slava [the Ukrainian mother Kate has housed] says thank you every single minute of the day, but maybe she's been told that’s what us Brits want. I could see that that could be a real problem. I don’t want people being grateful, that's not the motivation here, but to oil the wheels in British society manners are expected."

Brooks Newmark, a Conservative politician and former MP who has taken in a mother and her daughter, agreed the language barrier could create tension.

"Ukrainians are much more direct people. Whereas we tend to tiptoe around certain issues. And that bluntness might sometimes [...] if you don’t understand it, put people off. They don’t mean it, it’s just part of the culture to be direct. But I want to say, every single Ukrainian I’ve met is so grateful for what we in the UK are doing," he said.

Kate said it would be 'very helpful' to have the government formulate official groups of Ukrainian or Russian speakers to help ease communication between host families and refugees.

While Kate received a 47-page guide for 'Ukrainians arriving in the UK', it was only given to her in English. Subsequently, Kate thinks the government should also be working to make sure there are 'translations of the literature that they're giving out' to give refugees more independence and agency.

As Kate puts it, a translator isn't going to ever be available 'at all the times you want them to be'. "It makes me completely exhausted and Slava too. We use a translation app on our phones. You can’t have a sort of authentic conversation, because you have to stop all the time and get your translation, which may or may not work. So you can’t just get to know one another. It’s a real barrier to building a relationship and to wanting to spend time together," she explained.

Kate has only seen documents and admin in English rather than being accompanied by a Ukrainian translation for refugees too. Credit: UK Government
Kate has only seen documents and admin in English rather than being accompanied by a Ukrainian translation for refugees too. Credit: UK Government

While Brooks explained that most of the Ukrainians he's spoken to 'want to go back home soon, or as soon as they can do,' he said the war 'could also last a lot longer'.

"Even if it stopped today, there are huge swathes of the cities and county that are completely bombed, so it’s going to take a while to rebuild those.

"So the question is, in anticipation of that, what is the government doing and what is the local government doing to say we will find alternative or temporary housing for people, so they don’t end up staying longer than six months in people’s houses and even in shorter time if they can’t cope. There has to be a back up plan.

"We’re dealing with human beings here. Both the host and refugees coming in. And there might not be a fit between people, stresses in the host families’ situation maybe nothing to do with the refugees, but this is life and things happen. So the government should prepare for that," he said.

The language barrier could also prove extremely problematic not only in terms of testing the relationships between host families and the refugees, but in relation to the future of refugees in the UK and their ability to financially support themselves.

Kate said: "We have yet to navigate all of universal credit and child benefit, so I don’t know how successful that will be. If the mother not being able to get a job – she speaks literally no English and she’s got two primary school children – means that their money is reduced, that will be a problem for everybody. And if it’s the system that gets in the way, that will be very difficult.

"It could be particularly be difficult for other families who don’t have the resources we have. And if the government is using the kindness of the British people by encouraging them to take families, then those host families need all the support they can get, particularly financially."

Kateryna Shumylo, a 29-year-old Ukrainian journalist who fled Kyiv with her mother but arrived three weeks before her because of visa delays, believes the Homes for Refugees scheme has been 'designed [for] Ukrainian refugees with savings and knowledge of the English language'.

Despite noting how 'amazing' British people have been in treating refugees with 'such care and kindness', when asked what support she has received from the government, Kateryna stated: "No support."

Kateryna 'plans to start working as much as possible' but said she cannot go to work until she receives her BRP (Biometric Residence Permit).

"The nearest date was 1 May for the submission of documents, and a few more weeks to wait to receive the document and be able to work. Only in a few weeks it will be possible to receive the first salary. Refugees [basically] need to come with large savings by Ukrainian standards for at least a month, but what about those who lost their house and savings?

"The government should have simplified the system of job opportunities for refugees, people who fled the war cannot wait so many weeks," she said.

Kateryna and her mother have been taken in by Conservative and former MP Brooks Newmark and his family. Credit: Kateryna Shumylo
Kateryna and her mother have been taken in by Conservative and former MP Brooks Newmark and his family. Credit: Kateryna Shumylo

Kateryna explained how refugees are truly left with nothing upon reaching the UK.

"Tickets from Poland are very expensive, the bureaucratic process takes a lot of time on the spot, bank account, identity card, no easy procedure, no people who work with refugees. I'm not talking about myself now, but about people who lost everything and came.

"It's all too complicated. Free sim cards would be great to give out, as they do in Poland. Government need to understand that these people fled the war temporarily, they are not here on purpose, they just need to be temporarily supported with advice, [and] work in the first place," she said.

While Kate said she's glad her family has taken in refugees, she stressed how the process is far from easy. "And we’re in a privileged position and it’s not straight-forward," she said.

Brooks resolved: "The important thing is to really think through hard, don’t sort of sign on the dotted line unless you’ve really thought it through. [...] Because the only thing worse than taking someone in, is to then say to them after a month ‘I can’t deal with this anymore’. Taking in a refugee family is not just for Christmas."

Kateryna added: "If these are refugees from Kharkiv, Mariupol, Bucha, etc., people who have lost everything, then I don’t know how they survive here."

If you would like to donate to the Red Cross Emergency Appeal, which will help provide food, medicines and basic medical supplies, shelter and water to those in Ukraine, click here for more information 

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: Ukraine, UK News, Boris Johnson, Russia

Poppy Bilderbeck
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