On 15th March 2022, the APPG on Social Integration held an informal roundtable on the UK humanitarian sponsorship for Ukraine on Tuesday 15th March. The meeting took place the day after the UK’s humanitarian sponsorship policy was announced and in the wake of the enormous surge of public engagement in the first 24 hours. It focused on future priorities for getting the Ukraine scheme right, alongside lessons from, and for, broader welcoming programmes.
The roundtable collated key insights from stakeholders working to settle Ukrainians in the UK and welcoming policy experts.
A brief summary can be found below and a full briefing paper can be emailed to interested parties by contacting email@example.com
(i) Understanding Ukrainian needs – and the type of welcome many want
Ukrainians coming to Britain are predominantly women, children and the elderly – fleeing a war that other family members have often stayed to fight. There has yet to be any specific UK policy response to the significant number of unaccompanied children and young people fleeing the conflict across Europe.
In taking the many practical steps that can make welcoming work both for refugees from Ukraine and the communities they join, language should be framed sensitively, on themes of ‘integration’, to recognise and respect the strength of feeling with which women and children from Ukraine hope to return home. For example, many Ukrainians would balk at being ‘welcomed to their new home’ (which is not how most want to see Britain in 2022) but may appreciate efforts to make them ‘feel as welcome as possible while they need to be here’.
(ii) Matching is imperative.
Many people registering their interest will now be surprised to hear that they need to find and name the Ukrainian refugee they wish to host in order to apply.
The ability to match Ukrainians to British hosts is now the critical short-term factor for whether this enormous surge of UK public engagement gets utilised or frustrated. Given the scale of UK public interest, outreach and links to Ukrainians (in the UK and beyond) is a priority. There are good reasons for the government to not have offered to match everyone, but government retain a clear interest and a key
role in resourcing effective hubs, and communicating their existence to the general public. The ‘Reset’ hub was due to go live very shortly after the meeting.
(iii) How to support sponsors – and widen the ‘support circles’ of the community
The UK has gone from having piloted one of the most cautious (excessively onerous) models of Community Sponsorship to the rapid development of one of the lightest touch models possible within weeks. Beyond necessary safeguarding and oversight mechanisms, much value can be added by thinking innovatively about support for sponsors, including opportunities to share what works and how to address challenges.
A small but useful change would be to encourage sponsors to name some members of their support circle – ‘such as 3-5 people who I think will help’ – as part of the application, or as a key part of induction and briefing for the role. This would usefully nudge sponsors to start to think about the local support that they can access. Broadening the framing from individual hosting in this way could unlock some of the local connection legacies of Covid-19 neighbourliness and mutual aid groups for welcoming projects.
(iv) Bridging the welcoming projects.
Each of the welcoming projects for Ukraine, Afghans and for Hong Kongers faces distinct challenges. There will be many opportunities, particularly for social integration in the UK, if the synergies are also explored. Using the application process to offer potential Homes for Ukraine sponsors the opportunity to consider helping other cohorts (and/or other roles in welcoming work) could be a useful first step to recognising this potential. This would also provide a valuable way to defuse concerns about ‘exceptionalising’ Ukraine while dealing with the scale and urgency of the refugee flows from Ukraine right now.
Where could MPs add the most value in this phase of the policy roll-out?
MPs will play a crucial role as interlocutors for the public interest, in 650 constituencies around the UK. As well as being explainers of how the government proposes that the sponsorship scheme works, MPs could add particular value by:
(i) Identifying local Ukrainian and Ukrainian-adjacent networks, and linking them to key local civic networks, so that local links can augment online hubs as potential sponsors seek to find routes to relevant matches.
(ii) Promote ‘support circles’ for local sponsors, including promoting (real world/online) events which share past experiences of refugee sponsorship with new sponsors; and encouraging local sponsors to consider forming mutual support networks over the weeks/months ahead, both with each other and with other people willing to offer practical support to hosts.
(iii) Shape ‘phase two’ sponsorship to extend the sponsorship scheme to businesses, charities and faith) groups. Special efforts are required to engage with employers about how organisations can work together to link employment/job sponsorship with other key issues, such as housing (after 6 months), skills, and flexible working/childcare support for women with caring responsibilities.