War in Ukraine: Homes for Ukraine host asks refugees minister at launch of recruitment event for more people to open their homes to Ukrainians fleeing war

A woman who stepped in to host a family from Ukraine after their original matched sponsorship broke down has warned that a new campaign to recruit more hosts is futile without more support from the Scottish Government.

A total of 2,442 Ukrainian refugees are living on cruise ships in Scotland.
A total of 2,442 Ukrainian refugees are living on cruise ships in Scotland.

At the launch of a campaign aimed at recruiting new hosts around Scotland to allow Ukrainian refugees to move out of temporary accommodation, Sheila McNeil, from Edinburgh, told Scottish Government refugees minister Neil Gray that she had had no support from authorities since taking in Olga, 65 and her daughter Maria, who is 31, since April. She stepped in after an original host failed to provide them with the promised accommodation, instead leaving them living indefinitely in a caravan with no toilet or shower.

"This is the first time anybody has spoken to me in 34 weeks,” she said. “I can manage, but what about all the other people who need support?

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"I want to tell [Neil Gray] what's the point in expanding [the hosting scheme] and saying ‘come on hosts, come and join us’ when you can’t support them? What is going to happen to the people on the boat? Pop-up tents? Soulless hotels?”

Sheila McNeil, from Edinburgh, said there was "no point" in expanding the hosting scheme for Ukrainian refugees until better government support was put in place.

She added: “From experience, if there isn’t support for people, how are they going to manage?”

Ms McNeil, who had signed up as a host through a charity, said she had spoken to government officials at drop in events hosted by the Ukrainian Club of Edinburgh every two weeks for three months to tell them that they needed to put in place a formal system for refugees who found themselves in a situation where their hosting relationship had broken down.

"The only time I have been contacted is when I was asked to come here today,” she said. “I think it is a fantastic thing to do, but the hosts need to know there is no support.”

Mr Gray, who said that refugees are still arriving in Scotland “on a daily basis”, said the campaign would see the creation of a new website where potential hosts can enter their information and be matched with Ukrainian guests. Hosts will register their details online which will then be sent to their local authority.

Thousands of people who have fled the war in Ukraine are currently living in Scotland in temporary accommodation such as hotel rooms and cruise ships. Some of them have been there for months.

The campaign comes as the Scottish Government is struggling to find permanent housing for the thousands of refugees who have arrived in Scotland since March.

Ms McNeil said she would host her guests, from the Ukrainian city of Uman, for as long as necessary.

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"How long is a piece of string?” she said, when asked how long their hosting arrangement would continue. “Where else would they go? There’s nowhere for them to move on to. They get told nothing and I get told nothing.”

At the beginning of the conflict, more than 20,000 Scots expressed an interest in hosting refugees in their homes. However, in August, Mr Gray admitted that more than half of those people had dropped out of the scheme.

However, it recently emerged that checks on potential hosts – which allows families to open their homes to refugees – had ground to a halt last month.

Recent Scottish Government figures show as of November 3, out of 6,040 properties offered as host accommodation to those arriving through the super sponsor scheme, only 3,425 have had all necessary disclosure checks carried out on them. This is just 115 more than the 3,310 homes recorded in October.

These checks are the responsibility of local authorities, who have previously warned that they do not have the capacity to keep up with demand.

Ms McNeil, from Edinburgh, said she did not have a check by her local authority until Maria and Olga had been living with her for 24 weeks. The Scottish Government has said that all hosts should be vetted before guests arrive.

"There was no vetting and there was no procedure in place for refugees to change hosts,” she said.

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The number of Ukrainians living in temporary accommodation in hotel rooms has increased from 4,751 in October to 4,756 this month, while the number of Ukrainians onboard passenger ships – in Leith and Glasgow - has increased from 2,247 to 2,442 over the same period.

Last month, it was confirmed the Government’s super sponsor scheme for refugees would not be re-started.

The scheme, which allowed Ukrainians to name the Government as their sponsor for a UK Government Homes for Ukraine visa, rather than find an individual host, was paused, supposedly for three months, in July to allow the Government to catch up with a backlog of new arrivals and match them to long-term accommodation.

A Ukrainian refugee, Alla Lysa, said she had lived in a hotel at Edinburgh Airport for two months before being moved into temporary accommodation in a student housing complex and eventually matched with a host family – four months after arriving in Scotland.

Ms Lysa, 42, who worked as a lawyer in Ukraine and now has a job in a cafe in Edinburgh, said: “I thought I would be in a hotel for three days, that I wouldn’t be waiting too long. One one side, I appreciated that I had a roof over my head and the staff in the hotel were very kind. But Ukrainians live in the here and now, we don’t know anything about our future.”

Speaking at the Ukrainian Club, Mr Gray said he hoped the campaign would recruit many more hosts, but said he had no particular target for the numbers of families required by the government.

A £50 million government fund has been earmarked for creating other more permanent homes for people fleeing the war, such as re-purposing out-of-use social housing.

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He said: “We have welcomed so many people through our Super Sponsor Scheme who would otherwise not have been able to travel. We don’t want people to spend any more time than necessary in temporary accommodation and we are keen to match people with hosts as soon as we can.

“We need more hosts and that’s why we’ve launched this campaign. We know that being a host is a big commitment so we have set out exactly what will be expected so people can make an informed choice before providing their details. The most successful arrangements happen when both the needs of hosts and Ukrainians align. Many people may prefer to live in areas close to amenities and services, or close to pre-existing Ukrainian communities. In addition, volunteer hosts will have their own preferences and may not have space for larger family sizes or complex group compositions."

He added: “Obviously it is not sustainable for people to live in hotel accommodation or a ship’s cabin for any longer than absolutely necessary.”

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