The number of individuals and organisations who registered interest in housing Ukrainian refugees doubled to more than 100,000 in less than 24 hours after the Homes for Ukraine programme opened on Monday.
Public enthusiasm for the scheme has given ministers a rare positive news story following criticism of the government’s initial response to helping Ukrainian refugees.
“It’s fantastic that over 100,000 people and organisations have recorded their interest in supporting Ukrainians fleeing the war . . . ” UK Prime Minister Johnson wrote on Twitter. “Thank you to everyone across the country who has stepped up to offer their help so far.”
However, some charities are concerned that the rapid pace of enrolment and the abbreviated checking process could leave refugees vulnerable to trafficking and other forms of abuse.
Despite the strong public response, the UK continues to lag behind most European counterparts in taking in Ukrainians.
By 4pm on Monday the UK had issued only 4,600 visas under the Ukraine Family Scheme, which allows people settled in Britain to bring members of their extended family from Ukraine.
The Homes for Ukraine scheme, which has yet to issue its first visas, is intended for people without family ties to the UK.
About 2.97mn people have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its attack on the country on February 24, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Of those, 1.81mn are in Poland.
The checks planned under the Homes for Ukraine programme are less rigorous than those conducted under existing schemes to match asylum seekers and refugees with UK hosts.
Those usually involve face-to-face interviews and training to check hosts are prepared for the challenge. Follow-up visits from local authorities help both sides to work through any emerging problems.
The Ukrainian scheme has been streamlined because the UK’s previous community sponsorship programme for refugees, mainly focused on people fleeing Syria, provided accommodation to only about 100 people a year in its first five years of operation.
Daniel Sohege, communications manager for the charity Love146, which works with local authorities to help victims of child trafficking, said there was a “real risk” of people “slipping through the cracks” under the new approach.
The vast majority of hosts would be “people who just want to help”, he said, but many might not be equipped to cope with potentially “very complex trauma-related needs”, and there was a risk the scheme could be abused by traffickers without formal protection mechanisms in place.
Lauren Scott, executive director of the charity Refugees at Home, said she was concerned there would be no formal oversight of the matching process by organisations with experience of helping people who could have suffered trauma to settle — and to move on if the relationship broke down.
“With all the generosity in the world, life moves on and spare rooms are needed back,” she said.
Downing Street said local authorities could “step in” where there was a breakdown in relationship between the host and their sponsored refugee.
Shadow levelling-up secretary Lisa Nandy wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that the large number of people who had stepped up to help showed “Britain at its best”.
But, she added: “To see that generosity realised, we need to move much more quickly to bring Ukrainians here . . . It’s right that we have checks but the government must cut the excessive bureaucracy.”