‘Why I’m taking Ukrainian refugees into my home – and what needs to change about the system’


It is an anxious waiting game for Marijke Hoek, who is hoping to welcome Ukrainian refugees into her home in Burnage. The 60-year old signed up to the UK’s Homes for Ukraine scheme to actively help with the war in Europe, but the ‘complex’ process is ‘taking too long.’

Marijke made contact with a young widow who has a 12-year-old son a few weeks ago and applied to be a sponsor last Friday as soon as the government’s scheme opened – among more than 100,000 others. She has been communicating with the mum based in Kyiv via Facebook messenger, after her friend de ella in Manchester from Ukraine put them in touch.

The part-time church leader says all she has received so far is a confirmation email about the application, but no indication as to whether she has been successful or when the pair will be able to join her. “I think the government has created a complex process and has been very slow, they’re making it far from smooth or quick,” Marijke said on Tuesday.

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“I have no idea if I will get an answer next week, or the week after, or tomorrow. In the meantime, these people are in all sorts of difficulties and dangerous situations.

“It’s great to be involved but on the other hand, I’m thinking ‘surely we can check up on people after they’ve arrived’ – most of them are women and children, the men are not coming, they can’t leave .” The homeowner added: “This war has been going on 27 days and we’ve only given out 10,200 permissions for Ukrainians to come over so far. In Berlin, that’s a daily number that arrives.”



Marijke, 60, standing outside her property

Marijke, who is originally from the Netherlands but moved to Manchester at the age of 29 to study, says she felt compelled to be a part of the scheme. It took her more than an hour to fill out the online forms, where she had to share her passport details and other personal information.

Over the past few years, she has already hosted refugees, via charity Refugees at Home, on a short-term basis – including a Kurdish couple, a couple from South Sudan, and a few from Nigeria. “I just wanted to help,” the host said.

“I eat from Holland. I’m 60 but my parents went through the Second World War, we know in my family what war feels like. You just think ‘what can I do?'”

Following criticism about the UK government’s humanitarian response to the Ukraine crisis, which has seen an estimated 3.2million people fleeing the country, the two UK schemes were launched: the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme, for which anybody with space to house a refugee can apply ; and the Ukraine family scheme, for those who already have relatives in the UK.

Some 10,200 visas had been issued under the Ukraine family scheme as of 4pm on Sunday, and a total of 31,500 applications had been submitted, according to provisional data published on the Home Office’s website. Data for the Homes for Ukraine scheme has not yet been released, but Health Secretary Sajid Javid said 150,000 people had expressed an interest in hosting refugees through the programme.



The church leader’s front room

Marijke’s home consists of a lounge/diner, kitchen, one bathroom, her bedroom, a bedroom for her guests, and a small study. Sponsors, who must be able to accommodate for a minimum of six months, will be paid an allowance of £350 per month in return, which Marijke, who lives alone, thinks is adequate.

“I live quite simply,” she continued. “Everyone wants to do something when they see these images [of the war]being a host is then a catalyst for others to be involved as well.

“I’m part of a church and so many people have said ‘we will contribute’ – if the lad needs to go to a football club, they will pay for him; if they need school uniforms; there is so much willingness among my friends and my church. I have no doubt that we will pull that off really well. When you do it that way as part of a unity, there is always so much to contribute.”

The woman refugee she is hoping to sponsor, who does not wish to be named or pictured, is an English teacher. Marijke says the refugee is ‘so grateful’, adding: “She is waiting and hoping and praying that confirmation from the government will come through.”

As someone who has welcomed refugees into her home before, she says it’s important to have trust and to create a peaceful environment. For those thinking about joining the scheme, she advises potential hosts to follow the pace of their guests.

“A good host will offer a place where they can straight away feel they don’t need to do anything and think, ‘I can rest here, sleep as much as I like, someone will cook for me, let me be or take me for a walk’. That first stage is to rest and not to ask questions, if they want to talk, you listen. Then see, ‘do they feel ready to go to school or do voluntary work or paid work?’



Marijke has said the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme is ‘too slow’

A Department of Housing, Leveling Up and Community spokesman said: “We are moving as quickly as possible to ensure that those fleeing horrific persecution in Ukraine can find safety in the UK, and our Homes for Ukraine scheme now allows those without family connections to come to the UK.

“We have streamlined the visa application process so valid passport holders no longer have to attend in-person appointments before arriving, allowing us to welcome people faster while still maintaining vital security checks, which ensure those who could pose a threat to our safety are prevented. from getting here.”

In response to concerns about the speed of the process, the Home Office has said it wants to ensure the scheme isn’t exploited by people traffickers. A spokesperson said: “The government is committed to tackling the heinous crime of human trafficking.

“We will continue to clamp down on those who continue to exploit vulnerable people, while providing tailored support for victims to help their recovery. We are keeping the situation in Ukraine under review and remain in close contact with the Ukrainian government.”

Refugees at Home – a UK charity that connects those with a spare room in their home to refugees and asylum seekers – has been approached for a comment. For more information on the Homes for Ukraine scheme, head to the government’s website https://www.gov.uk/guidance/homes-for-ukraine-scheme-frequently-asked-questions.

READMORE: Manchester ‘stands in solidarity’ with Ukrainian refugees as new charity appeal is launched to help families desperately fleeing war




www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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