he first Government-backed matching scheme has been launched to link UK sponsors with Ukrainian refugees, amid warnings that schemes helping people reach safety must not become “Tinder for sex traffickers”.
Reset Communities and Refugees – a charity which has led UK community sponsorship schemes since 2018 – has launched a service to pair sponsors and refugees, provide training and carry out initial eligibility and safeguarding checks.
It has received £300,000 in initial funding from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).
The charity launched the initial phase of the programme on Friday and hopes to scale up to match future demand.
It is the first and only matching scheme to receive Government backing.
The service launched two weeks after the Government’s Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme opened for visa applications from refugees with a named sponsor.
We must make sure that there are fair and rigorous systems in place to support the refugees and sponsors as they embark on this programme
Some 4,700 visas have been granted, and 32,200 applications have been made under the scheme as of Thursday, according to Home Office figures.
More than 200,000 people have expressed an interest in opening their homes to a Ukrainian refugee under the scheme.
But there have been concerns that the matching aspect has led to people turning to strangers on social media, and being vulnerable to being exploited by potential human traffickers.
Kate Brown, chief executive of Reset Communities and Refugees, said: “This is an extraordinary moment for the refugee welcome movement in the UK.
“With 200,000 people signed up to offer their homes under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, and hundreds of thousands more offering support, we are in a position to help more refugees than ever before.
“We must make sure that there are fair and rigorous systems in place to support the refugees and sponsors as they embark on this programme.”
Refugees Minister Lord Harrington added: “I am delighted and grateful that Reset are working with us to bring more people safely to the UK.”
During the pilot phase of the scheme over the past few weeks, more than 7,000 refugees and 8,000 UK households – offering places for more than 20,000 refugees – have registered on the Reset website.
The service is intended for potential sponsors and refugees who do not have other means of pairing up.
Refugees who have found sponsors through other means – such as via other charities, online and local groups – will still be able to apply for visas separately via the Government website without having to go through the Reset service.
Under the scheme, trained caseworkers and volunteers will assess sponsors’ intent, suitability, availability and appropriateness of the accommodation they can offer.
They will also assess refugees to see if they have particular needs or have ties to a particular area, and sponsors will need to undergo an online training course.
The charity did not say how long it expects the matching process to take, but said it is aware of the urgency and is “working as fast as we can to enable matches”.
When a match has been made, refugees will need to submit their visa application via the Government website, after which the Government and local authorities will conduct formal vetting and checks.
The charity will also provide ongoing training, advice and support for sponsors and local authorities, drawing on the expertise of the charity Refugees at Home.
This will provide advice on how to support refugees who need help with learning English, getting children into schools, accessing health care, registering for benefits and finding employment.
Labour welcomed the move, but said “more needs to be done to help refugees in urgent need”.
Lisa Nandy, shadow levelling up secretary, said: “It is a relief that the Government has belatedly realised a DIY scheme where desperate people have to advertise themselves on social media is not good enough.
“Precious time has already been wasted. More needs to be done to help refugees in urgent need, including cutting unnecessary bureaucracy.
“The Government cannot go on wasting the amazing generosity of people who have stepped up and offered to open their homes.”