Small family home offers one spare bedroom. Already contains two adults, two children and all their stuff – including three bikes, two scooters and approximately 37 jackets in the hallway alone. Kitchen, living room and bathroom all shared.
Seeking one heavily traumatised refugee/migrant/asylum seeker/no one really knows because refugees don’t need visas and apparently a visa application will need to be made prior to arrival. Must be white and European.
I don’t want to sound defeatist, but no matter what side I look at it from, I can only see problems with the UK government’s heralded Homes for Ukraine programme.
I am, of course, able to look at the scheme from more directions and through a more experienced lens than many, having worked with refugees in Scotland daily for over six years now. But it’s my parental radar that is going off most loudly at the moment – partly because I’ve been contacted by so many families looking to open their homes to a Ukrainian refugee, and partly because I know first-hand how much effort is required to help children understand the realities of the situation.
You might think you can navigate the idea of forcible displacement as a ‘topic for discussion’, but I promise, it very quickly becomes a conversation about friendship, family, trauma and loss that no-one – not you, not those who have direct experience of it and certainly not our children – can get their heads around quickly. This is not a teaching opportunity.
Parenting is an endless cycle of questioning whether you’ve done the right thing. Shared enough information, but not too much. Given your opinion, but left enough space for your kids to form their own opinions and views of the world. The worry that you’ve done too little or too much is constant, and the idea that you can educate your own children about forcible displacement whilst offering sanctuary to a recently traumatised individual and/or their child is naïve to say the least.
Before I continue, let me be clear. I am a huge supporter of well-established initiatives that encourage people to welcome refugees into their home. Refugees at Home, for example, do amazing work across the UK matching both refugees and asylum seekers with host families and providing all of the incredibly necessary vetting, support and guidance that needs to go with it. What I refuse to support is an ill-conceived initiative that prioritises one group of forcibly displaced people over another. Humanity and equal access should be the foundation of any governmental response to crisis but instead, what we have at the core of this latest scheme is privilege and racism. Add a healthy dose of saviour complex to that and what do you have? Damage.
All I can see is damage. The most immediate being the crystal-clear message this sends to every refugee who arrived before Ukraine and every non-white, non-European refugee to follow. I understand that people feel horrified, shocked and inspired to do something as a result of the endless news coverage about this war. That is admirable. But so is pausing, educating yourself and scrutinising the scheme on the table. If the idea of this programme being problematic and racist is difficult for you to comprehend, you have a lot of learning to do before you should be opening your home to anyone.
I say this not only as a person working with refugees, but as a parent too. Of course, we need to talk to our children about politics. We need to expose them to experiences that aren’t as privileged as our own – recognising that only the privileged can offer a room. Our children, and we, need to understand how the world is shaped, by whom, and what the consequences of their leadership is, no matter how brutal. Children need to know that they have an opportunity to influence the world that they will eventually adult in. I try hard to give my children a balanced view of all these things. But exposure and context is everything.
If you recognise all of the problems with this scheme, have done the work, have listened to the concerns of those in the space and decide to continue with the application to host a refugee – you’ll understand, because you’ve listened, how important it is to go through one of the long-established organisations who work with refugees from all over the world. You need to know that if you go ahead and become a host, you will be taking on the huge responsibility of sharing your home with someone who has experienced something they’re almost certainly still to come to terms with – and that you will hopefully never be able to fully understand. It is, of course, entirely possible to do this with the right training, support and education – but that is not embedded in the government’s latest scheme. The fact their advice is to simply contact “a charity” instead of specific, named, experienced providers of this specific type of programme is flabbergasting.
An exercise in inexperience
Poring over the government’s own Homes for Ukraine website, you’ll find an FAQs page where popular questions about the scheme are answered. It features queries such as: “I don’t know the person I’m sponsoring – we met on Facebook. Should I give them my passport details?”
I’m guessing most people don’t need the problem with this question explained but, just in case, a quick reminder about stranger danger and internet security. Finding traumatised strangers online via social media and inviting them to come and live with you PRIOR to any security checks being carried out on either side is not sensible, safe or something that anyone other than our ill-prepared, delusional government would suggest.
For many people, this scheme will be the first time they’ve properly engaged with the refugee experience. That’s ok. Everyone is welcome to learn. But that’s what’s needed now – learning.
So, instead of using the white, European refugee living in your home as a tool to educate your children, why not use the realisation that this scheme is racist and deeply problematic to do the appropriate work and learning yourself? Start with reading the websites or attending the events of the many organisations across the nation who have been working with refugees from all over the world for decades. They desperately need your engagement, support and efforts.
And from one parent to another: this is not a decision to be made lightly or emotionally off the back of a news report. Our government is looking for a quick way to say it’s doing its bit for refugees. It’s not. And you can’t do so either without the proper support. Just ask my children.
Joeli Brearley is away