Our thoughts continue to be with everyone affected by the violence and destruction in Ukraine, the millions of people already forced from their homes, and all those still prevented from seeking safety. We know all too well from more than two decades of working with displaced people the human cost of this – the trauma of lives suddenly turned upside down, the heart-breaking decisions individuals and families are forced to make, and the pain of loss and separation from loved ones.

There are two UK government schemes under which Ukrainian refugees can come to the UK. We are providing practical support to Ukrainian refugees in Suffolk, both those with family members in the UK who arrived under the Ukraine Family Scheme, and those arriving under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, but we are not involved in registering offers of accommodation or matching hosts with individual refugees.

Homes for Ukraine scheme

We have seen an amazing response from the people of Suffolk and we welcome the Homes for Ukraine scheme as a way of harnessing public generosity and supporting Ukrainian refugees who wish to come to the UK. However, we are concerned that the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable refugees is not being prioritised in the delivery of the scheme, and we share the frustrations of many with visa application delays, implementation issues, and lack of clear information and safe matching processes.

How to register accommodation

We encourage people to research the Homes for Ukraine scheme thoroughly and think through carefully what it will mean for you and your family. Refugees applying to the scheme are likely to be traumatised and vulnerable, separated from loved ones who are in direct danger back home and may need specialist support.

If you would like to register to offer accommodation to Ukrainian refugees, you should do so through the UK government’s website here: https://homesforukraine.campaign.gov.uk/.

How to be matched safely with a refugee

If you have registered with the Homes for Ukraine scheme and are looking for a way to be matched with a refugee, Reset (who help communities welcome refugees) are matching people and providing training and support. Theirs is the only government-endorsed matching service, and we recommend it so that the process can be managed securely and the most vulnerable people given a route to safety. You can fill in Reset’s host form here.

Citizens UK have also set up a Communities for Ukraine programme matching refugees with sponsors and providing ‘end-to-end’ support through the process: https://www.citizensuk.org/campaigns/communities-for-ukraine/

We recommend you are cautious about sharing information through other matching websites, particularly those run by unregistered organisations, and we strongly advise against organising matches through social media. There is growing evidence that this kind of matching is putting vulnerable people at risk.

Visa application support

Once you have been matched, either you or the refugee/s you are matched with will need to make a visa application. If a visa application has already been made, please be patient – we know this delay can be frustrating and we hope that refugees will quickly be given permission to travel, but we are not able to speed up this process in any way. Local authorities are carrying out accommodation and DBS checks where visa applications have been made, but the visa process is not dependent on these checks. If you have a confirmed arrival date for your guest/s and the checks have not yet been carried out, please contact Suffolk County Council or your local district council.

We are not able to assist with the visa application form ourselves as this is not our area of expertise, but you might find the following links helpful:

There is detailed advice and guidance here on the visa form and information required from people who have already been through the process

A Ukrainian support organisation called Opora have put together a guide for sponsors, including visa application guidance and info in Ukrainian

Once your guest has arrived

Universal Credit – applications should be made online (see ways we can help below). You can find more guidance here. To apply for Pension Credit, phone 03456 053 000 to be connected to the dedicated team dealing with Ukrainian applications.

School places – applications should be made to Suffolk County Council’s School Admissions Team for community and voluntary controlled schools, or directly to academies and voluntary aided schools

Bank accounts – we are aware of a mixed picture, with some banks requiring proof of address and in-branch offerings being quite inconsistent (it seems to be easier with some banks if the host is an existing customer), but NatWest are offering a special account for Ukrainian refugees, while some hosts are choosing the online bank Monzo for speed

SIM cards – we have free Vodafone SIM cards available (see ways we can help below)

£200 one-off payment for refugees/£350 monthly sponsor payment – to arrange these with Suffolk County Council, follow the guidance here. Please note, these payments are currently only available to hosts and refugees under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) – unless your guest has attended a visa application centre and given their biometrics already, their entry stamp will be valid for the first six months only. To extend their stay for up to the three years allowed under this scheme, they will need to apply for a Biometric Residence Permit. This will require them to provide biometric information, including a photograph of their face and a sample of fingerprints. You can apply for a BRP once arrived in the UK here.

English classes – we can help you to access English classes (see ways we can help below)

How we can help

We are providing practical support to Ukrainian refugees arriving in Suffolk, to help them access services and feel secure in their new environment. We are seeing families in our Ipswich office, supporting hosts and guests via telephone and email, and working at speed with partners to put in place further specialist advice and guidance.

If you are a Ukrainian refugee in Suffolk or you are hosting a Ukrainian family and you need support in the following areas, please do get in touch with us on 01473 400785 or by email: office@suffolkrefugee.org.uk

SIM cards –  we can provide Vodafone SIMs free for refugees in Suffolk preloaded with 20GB of data per month plus unlimited UK texts and calls for six months. This can be vital in making sure people arriving have a phone number in order to register for other services.

English classes – we can help you to access ESOL assessments and English classes either delivered by Suffolk Refugee Support or partners across the county

Employment advice – we can offer specialist employment and training advice, helping refugees to access the local employment market, training courses and further education

Benefits applications – we can provide advice with applications where refugees and hosts are finding it difficult to complete forms themselves online

Further information and resources

Reset have a comprehensive Sponsor Toolkit here and are running webinars for hosts

Suffolk County Council have a useful Frequently Asked Questions page which they are keeping updated with the latest guidance, and a Sponsors Pack for the Homes for Ukraine scheme with a range of local information and links

The UK government are providing answers to common questions on their FAQs page here, including details on accommodation requirements

NACCOM have a variety of specialist hosting resources here, including Good Practice Guides, sample Host/Guest Agreements, Kids’ Guide to Hosting, and Understanding Trauma

Ukrainians Welcome provides useful information (in Ukrainian, English and Russian) on how to stay safe, informed and supported for Ukrainians in the UK

Asylum Welcome have lots of guidance on the scheme and links to useful resources here

Community Action Suffolk provide support and guidance to local community groups – you can email them here: ukrainesupport@communityactionsuffolk.org.uk

There is information on bringing pets to the UK and quarantine requirements here

Suffolk Mind have a mental health support page for anyone affected by the war in Ukraine here

Barnardo’s have a free helpline offering support to anyone arriving in the UK from Ukraine

What you can do

We are looking for volunteers who speak fluent Ukrainian (as well as English) to help us support Ukrainian refugees. If you are interested you can find out more about registering as a volunteer with us here. We are not taking or coordinating any donations of items at this stage, but will put out appeals for items on our Facebook page as and when they are needed. If you would like to support our work with Ukrainian refugees, you can pledge your support securely here.

We are also continuing to provide vital support to refugees and asylum seekers forced to flee conflict, violence and persecution elsewhere, including Afghans recently arrived in the UK. Suffolk Refugee Support have responded to the needs of vulnerable refugees arriving here since 1999, and last year we gave more than 7000 advice contacts to people from 43 countries. With record numbers of people displaced from their homes around the world, demand for our services has never been higher, but we will continue to provide a warm welcome and long term support to refugees and asylum seekers in Suffolk, however they arrive and whatever their needs. If you would like to receive our updates and newsletters automatically, you can sign up to our mailing list here.

As we continue to see the incredible generosity of the British public towards vulnerable refugees, it is worth emphasising that there are no safe, legal routes for traumatised people fleeing conflict and persecution in many parts of the world to apply for asylum in the UK. Two thirds of those who reach the UK via informal routes are proven to need our protection. You can read our response to government plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda here. The current refugee crisis also serves as a reminder that more than 85% of the world’s refugees are hosted by countries neighbouring their own. Often these are poorer or developing countries – for instance, Turkey currently hosts around 4 million refugees, Uganda 1.5 million, Pakistan 1.4 million, and around a quarter of Lebanon’s total population are refugees. Poland has taken in more than 3.5 million Ukrainian refugees since the beginning of the war.