Facebook groups were forced to restrict the number of people seeking to host Ukrainian refugees after the government’s sponsorship scheme went into a frenzy on the first day of applications.
Ukrainian refugees searching for host families on social media received up to 300 posts, each offering rooms as Brits vied to outdo each other on the size of their houses and gardens, number of rooms, local leisure facilities and the quality of the field.
A Ukrainian mother who had fled the Russian invasion of the Czech Republic received so many offers from different parts of the UK that the Facebook group had to post a notice that read: “Members limit themselves to commenting once every five minutes on this publication”.
Such was the interest in welcoming another mother and daughter who had fled the defeated city of Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine, that there were 292 comments on Facebook on her post about a home.
When she revealed that her daughter was a great gymnast, three independent potential hosts, who lived in Yorkshire, the South East of England and Berkshire, discussed why their local sports facilities would be the most suitable.
The increase came as the 147,000 Britons who signed up for the Homes for Ukraine scheme were allowed to apply, provided they had found and linked to designated Ukrainians. Sources said it amounted to more than 400,000 rooms on sale across the UK.
As well as searching for Ukrainian refugees on social media, the British also bombed charities. Room for Refugees, the UK’s longest-running refugee hosting programme, said it was receiving 40 calls and up to 150 emails an hour from Britons wanting to offer accommodation to Ukrainian refugees.
Some prospective families abandoned their search in the face of competition.
A couple with a vacant two-bedroom “tiny” house said: “The fact that the government says ‘you have to find your own family’ has created a frenzy on social media.
“There are people competing for families to come and stay. Everybody wants to do so much, it’s just a nightmare. It just opens it up for a lot of wrong people and people who choose who they want to come with. We just think it’s a bit complicated and we’ll wait for the furor to die down.
“Can you imagine being on the other side? They don’t know where they are going. Where is Gloucester? What is the state of the place? Are there Ukrainians in Gloucester? Can I get a job?
Offers made to another refugee family included “two double rooms and a large private bathroom” and “a room with a king-size bed” in a “beach side” house.
Winnie the Pooh’s birthplace used to win over refugees
Another social media user’s speech to a refugee who said he was forced to leave kyiv with his son included an image of a picturesque Cornish sunset.
They promised “a room with bunk beds and shared facilities. We have a trampoline and skate ramp in the garden and bicycles, scooters and skateboards to enjoy. We have two horses and three cats too.”
Another user wrote: “We have a double room for a mother and a brother. Enchanting area on the edge of Winnie the Pooh’s Ashdown Forest! We have two very well behaved dogs!”
Charities warned that the government risked leaving thousands of potential host families frustrated by the process unless it quickly took over the matching process rather than leaving it to individuals.
Enver Solomon, executive director of the Refugee Council, said: “With several Facebook sites now available, there is a risk that the process will spin out of control and turn into a pitched battle. It is vital that the government steps in now and has an overview of the matchmaking process.”
Robina Qureshi, director of Positive Action in Housing which runs Room for Refugees, said the government’s do-it-yourself matching scheme was “an inadequate replacement for a safe, screened and risk-assessed housing process”.
He added: “They are collecting data from people about who will help on an industrial scale when they should be bringing refugees on an industrial scale. That record isn’t going anywhere. You’ll have a people trick.”
Government ‘working on matchmaking system’
Government sources said they were working on a matchmaking system to introduce “as soon as possible” ready for a “second phase” in which charities, churches, community groups and businesses could act as intermediaries.
Lord Harrington of Watford, the refugee minister, admitted he was “unhappy” with the speed at which visas for Ukrainians had been processed, with families reporting on Friday that it still took up to four hours to complete new applications. simplified to receive the Ukrainians. families
Both hosts and refugees must provide details and proof of identity, residence and relationship, but officials said once submitted, they aimed to process applications for Ukrainians with passports within 48 hours. The first ones are expected to be approved by the end of Sunday.
Lord Harrington told Times Radio that the first refugees under the scheme would start arriving in British homes early next week.
He said the government had no idea how many Ukrainians would enter under Homes for Ukraine and accepted that more than 150,000 bids from the public may exceed demand.