In just a matter of days, more than 150,000 people eagerly registered for the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme. However, if we are to truly help those facing an unimaginable crisis, then we must be able to provide more than an initial warm welcome, however heartfelt it may be.
Given the groundswell of public support, a steady stream of refugees will be arriving soon to reach desperately needed sanctuary. Meanwhile, a huge volume of financial and material aid continues to be collected to support Ukrainians who have been cruelly separated from loved ones and face an uncertain future. When they arrive on our shores, Ukrainian refugees will rightly be welcomed.
Sadly, the grim reality is that for Ukrainian refugees, it is unlikely to be a fleeting visit to the UK. We have to assume that their stay in this country will be long term. As such, they will need the tools not only to exist in safety, but to rebuild their lives, and to thrive as part of our communities.
There is no doubt that providing suitable accommodation is key to achieving this. Across the housing and property sector, we fully appreciate that a home is so much more than a roof over heads. It is the necessary foundation to finding work, to building a family and to contributing to the wider community. A decent home can be the catalyst towards fulfilling dreams and ambitions. As such, the government has taken a hugely important initial step by launching the Homes for Ukraine initiative.
However, efforts must extend way beyond this. A safe and secure home cannot be the end goal in and of itself for those escaping Ukraine. Many housing associations provide a vital range of programmes to support residents and this support will also be vital for refugees.
At MTVH, which I head, these include care and support services, schemes to help residents find employment, community engagement initiatives and much more. In other words, residents are not simply given a home; they are empowered to enrich their lives. We know that business will be keen to play their part too and have the people and the jobs to help secure that future.
For refugees, this broader outlook is especially important. Those arriving from Ukraine will have little idea how to access practical help for everyday issues or where to turn for material support. They will need to be given the tools to help themselves. They will need to find employment to become self-sufficient, they will need to be able to navigate the health service to lead healthy lives, they will need access points to the community around them. They will need more than just a physical building to call home.
Moreover, they will be arriving in the most tragic of circumstances. They will require not just general support, but specialist services too. Inevitably, many will require help to process the trauma that they will surely be suffering.
The unique needs of refugees and migrants is something that our Migration Foundation at MTVH has been addressing for more than a decade. Not only do we provide many homes for those seeking sanctuary, but crucially the Migration Foundation helps people to access the legal and emotional support required to give them a chance to settle, rebuild their lives and contribute to their new surroundings. In this spirit, MTVH recently signed up to a pledge by London business leaders to employ refugees.
It is this type of holistic approach that is so desperately needed as the UK grapples with how best to help those arriving from Ukraine. Long-term solutions must be developed and instituted as an integral part of the UK’s plan to resettle them.
Inevitably, the passage of time will see the plight of Ukrainian refugees fade from the limelight. We saw this with the Afghan crises. Once this happens, they must be left with much more than simply the means to survive. It is incumbent on the whole property sector as well as government and those of us in the housing sector who invariably have expertise, structures and initiatives already in place that could be so valuable to these efforts.
Failure to harness these resources and to work together towards long-term solutions in this way would ultimately damage the hopes and the very future of the people we all so want to help.
Geeta Nanda OBE is chief executive of Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing and chair of the G15 group of London’s largest housing associations