Ukrainian women are being harassed and targeted by men exploiting the UK’s Homes for Ukraine scheme, which has been dubbed “Tinder for sex traffickers.”
Ukrainian women have told VICE World News they have received “suspicious” messages from men who only reach out to other women.
“I get a lot of messages from suspicious men,” Alisa Savina, who posted on a Facebook group looking for sponsorship, told VICE World News. “They don’t seem suspicious from just a message but if you check on their profiles, or under whose posts they comment, it is always towards young females.”
Savina had also received messages from men offering accommodation in exchange for work or calling her “very beautiful.”
One message read: “If you have any questions about England let me know. 😉 You are [a] very beautiful lady and deserve happiness.”
The Times has also reported women receiving explicit images from men posing as hosts.
Under the UK’s Homes for Ukraine scheme, Ukrainians who hope to come to the UK must be sponsored by a British citizen, charity or organisation before they are able to come to the country. This has led to many
Ukrainians – often women – use social media to search for homes, posting selfies along with information about themselves and their relatives, leaving them open to harassment in unregulated Facebook groups with tens of thousands of members.
Posts like this seen by VICE World News received far more comments than those of middle ages people or families, with certain men commenting specifically on women only, or specifying they would only host women. Men not from the UK, and therefore not applicable to host, also commented frequently on these posts.
The Homes for Ukraine scheme, which has received criticism for approving fewer than one in ten applicants, does vet hosts but this role is left to councils who may not have enough information or support to carry this out effectively.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was warned by Dame Diana Johnson, the Labour chair of the Home Affairs Committee, that some anti-slavery and refugee groups had said the scheme “risked operating as Tinder for sex traffickers”.
Lisa Nandy, Labour’s Shadow Levelling Up Secretary, told VICE World News this has left the scheme “fraught with risks”
“The government should have recognised from the start that a DIY scheme where refugees have to advertise themselves on social media was always fraught with risk,” she said. “There has been an amazing outpouring of generosity from people who genuinely want to help, but of course, it is vital to protect people from exploitation. That’s why the government should have taken charge of matching refugees to sponsors from day one.”
Refugee charities are also receiving reports that the system could be “vulnerable to exploitation.”
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, told VICE World News: "We have been made aware of Facebook groups, forums and matching websites that have emerged to help connect Ukrainian refugees with hosts in the UK that aren’t safe.”
“While it is incredibly heart-warming to see so many people wanting to help, we would highlight that the matching system in its current form is unregulated and as such, could be vulnerable to exploitation.”
Zoe Gardner, policy and advocacy manager at the Joint Committee for the Welfare of Immigrants told VICE World News the hostile environment has impacted the efficacy of the scheme.
“While it's good to see ministers trying to welcome Ukrainian refugees, half-baked quick fixes like the 'Homes for Ukraine' scheme don't magic away the problems caused by 10 years of this government’s hostile environment,” she said. “As this scheme demonstrates, when government pieces together reactionary schemes during an emergency without proper planning, it inevitably puts refugees at risk.
“The punitive culture at the Home Office has pushed refugees and immigrants into danger for more than a decade. The crisis in Ukraine is just the latest example of just how destructive our hostile asylum system can be.”