UK families opening their homes to refugees resort to social media to find a match | #socialmedia

Julia Rigg and her husband Bill are among the 100,000 people in the UK who have registered to host refugees from Ukraine in their home.

For Ms Rigg, 58, the decision was a “very easy” one to make because of her heritage.

Her Jewish great grandparents, who hailed from Kyiv and Odesa, fled Ukraine during the revolution in the 1900s and got safe passage on a ship to the UK where they settled in the East End of London.

“I just feel this is my opportunity to pay back for the fact that I exist really. They managed to escape and that’s why I’m here today,” she told i.

Ms Rigg and her husband, from Derbyshire, have nine grown up children and have offered two rooms already but are open to taking in more refugees – and not just those from Ukraine.

So far they’ve matched with a mother and her two daughters aged 21 and 18 who could arrive in the UK as early as next week, depending on how quickly their visas are approved when that element of the scheme opens on Friday.

“Everyone seems to want people with young children and older people are being somewhat overlooked,” Ms Rigg said.

The Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme requires individuals to nominate named Ukrainians to stay with them but hosts have said there is lack of information and support available.

Ms Rigg scrolled through Facebook groups to identify people in need and eventually found the family through Opora, an organisation that collated a database of sponsors and Ukrainians looking for sponsorship.

She said the Government registration process was “not straight forward at all”, adding that she received no acknowledgement that she had registered and only found out it had been successful when she tried to complete her application again.

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Ms Rigg said: “Having made contact with this family – there’s no information to say how they get their visa. I’ve had to find that myself. And that system doesn’t go live until Friday, so whether or not it’s going to work I don’t know. If it does work and they get visas, then they’e got to organise their own travel.”

She added that the Ukrainian family she matched with left Ukraine two weeks ago and are currently in Berlin and “very, very traumatised”.

“None of them speak German – they’re finding that very, very difficult. So they’re in what they’re calling a rescue centre and they just have a few possessions with them. They’ve had to leave behind their cats and dog. They are very, very traumatised,” Ms Rigg said.

Despite the challenges, Ms Rigg, who is in a wheelchair from a spinal cord injury, said: “For me, being disabled would be the perfect excuse to sit back and do nothing but that just wasn’t an option.”

Gary Gray and his wife, Anna, conducted their own ‘common sense’ vetting when finding a family from Ukraine to host (Photo: Supplied)

Gary Gray, 50, and his wife Anna, 49, from Bathgate, in West Lothian, Scotland, are also among those who have found a family to accommodate.

“My mum died two months ago and if I can have anything positive coming out of the back of this [period] I will. We’ve been watching the news every night and this is so shocking. We feel like we had to do this,” said Mr Gray, of the couple’s decision.

The bank manager has no previous experience of hosting refugees, but has gone out of his way to start setting up support for the family of four from Kharkiv who they hope to sponsor.

“The Government have kind of privatised [this visa scheme] for individuals. You’ve got to do the leg work yourself. This morning I’ve been trying to set up a doctors’ surgery, a school, that kind of stuff. I’ve also asked the council about what mental health support will be on offer but they said they don’t know yet,” said Mr Gray.

In lieu of Government security checks at this point in the process, he and Anna, who works for Covid vaccine manufacturer Valneva, also undertook their own “common sense” vetting.

“We had a Zoom call. We were all nervous because we don’t know each other at all. They were so pleased that we’d offered help to them, and we had a grown-up conversation in the bizarrest of circumstances,” he said.

“The mother asked if we had children and when we said ‘no’, she said, ‘You now have our son as part of your family’ – which was wonderful to hear.”

The family, made up of a mum, dad, and two sons, who are currently in a one-room refuge centre in Cologne after fleeing their home, will stay across two rooms with an en-suite in the Grays’ home.

“Financially we can afford to do this. The [monthly £350 ‘thank you’ payment] we get from the Government, we’re just going to give to them,” said Mr Gray.

However, he also raised concerns that many Ukrainians finding matches currently were also likely to be more affluent.

“We’re finding the people who know about the scheme are educated, professionals who can speak English. They’ve lost everything but we’re not getting to the people who really need the help and there’s nothing I can do about that,” he said.

“We need the Government to get some civil servants out on the ground to tell people about it.”

‘We need sufficient guidance’

Andy Shuter, 52, has registered to host refugees from Ukraine (Photo: Supplied)

Andy Shuter, 52, from York, has registered to host refugees from Ukraine but he’s yet to find anyone to sponsor and feels more guidance is needed.

“Me and my wife have been horrified by what we’ve been seeing. We’re very fortunate we’ve got quite a big house and we’ve got two spare rooms.

“These poor people have had their lives turned upside down. So we just thought, well, we’ll register for the scheme.

“I did it at quarter to four in the morning on the night it went live because I went on and I thought I’d register but it crashed. It was really been on my mind, so I actually got up in the middle and I registered that night. I got an email saying we’ll be in touch.

“Now, this I suppose is where me and a lot of people are quite confused now because how do you take it to the next stage? So I put a message on the expats forum.

“What we’ve also got to understand is that these folks are probably daunted by the prospect of filling out reams and reams of forms that you don’t have to do in other countries like Poland or Germany. Somebody needs to say right, okay, so stage two is this. You need sufficient guidance.”

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