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U.K. shouldn't pair female Ukrainian refugees with lone male hosts, the U.N. says

Pictures made by children in solidarity with Ukraine are displayed in a window at 10 Downing Street in London in March.
Matt Dunham
Pictures made by children in solidarity with Ukraine are displayed in a window at 10 Downing Street in London in March.

The U.N.'s refugee agency is raising concerns about the United Kingdom's Homes for Ukraine program, in which anyone can apply to host a refugee for a period of at least six months.

Citing "increasing reports of Ukrainian women feeling at risk from their sponsors," the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is urging U.K. officials to refine the application and matching process.

"UNHCR believes that a more appropriate matching process could be put in place by ensuring that women and women with children are matched with families or couples, rather than with single men," the agency said in a Wednesday statement. "Matching done without the appropriate oversight may lead to increasing the risks women may face, in addition to the trauma of displacement, family separation and violence already experienced."

The agency also expressed concern about what would happen if the original host proves to be a threat to the refugee's safety, especially given the six-month minimum.

The government launched the Homes for Ukraine program in mid-March, after facing criticism for accepting only several hundred refugees fleeing the war. Some 100,000 people signed up as potential hosts on the first day, and that number has since doubled.

However, only a quarter of the Ukrainian refugees who have been granted visas (or about 12,000 people) had arrived in the U.K. as of last week, prompting continued public criticism of the slow-moving bureaucracy as well as apologies from several top government officials over the delay.

And some refugees have made it to the U.K. only to have their housing arrangements fall through, with SkyNews reporting that there have been dozens of cases in which refugees became homeless "after their relationship with their sponsors broke down."

Desperation and confusion have led some refugees seeking housing to turn to social media, where they are vulnerable to exploitation.

This story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.