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The role of charities

The role of charities in the Ukraine crisis

The Ukraine crisis has resulted in an enormous wave of sympathy and thousands have offered space in their homes to the refugees from the war. The positive response has caught ministers and the Home Office on the hop. They have spent years devising ever tighter immigration controls and are pushing yet more legislation through parliament as we speak. The ‘hostile environment’ as it has become known has considerable public support if the headlines and stories in the tabloid press are to be believed, are a true reflection of public opinion.

The problem now with easing of controls and the prospect of thousands of mainly women and children coming to Britain, is how it is to be managed. The individuals concerned are extremely vulnerable and although the vast majority of people offering space in their homes will be doing so with the best of intentions, there is no getting away from the fact that some won’t be. There have been some stories recently, from people who, as children, were evacuated during the war and telling of the abuse and neglect they experienced.

Clearly, there is a role for local authorities to inspect and monitor the evacuees in the homes. And here we hit the problem of the government’s attitude to both local authorities and regulation. They don’t like either. Michael Gove’s anger in the Commons when pressed about their ‘hostile environment’ policy, which was alive and well only three or so weeks ago, is evidence that they are embarrassed by the policy, the Home Office and Priti Patel.

James Cleverly MP (not the home secretary, note), the minister for Europe and North America, was interviewed on the Today programme on 15th March 2022. His theme was that there were already ‘charities and faith groups in contact with people in Ukraine’. The government he said wanted to be as ‘agile and as quick as possible’. But what about checks to ensure that proper safeguarding was in place he was asked: twice in fact because the answers were fairly vague.

The best we got was ‘we will be working with local government to make sure we do that safeguarding’. His response sounded as though it was a pat answer to get him out of questions about safeguarding that he did not seem to have thought much about.

This puts local government, charities, faith groups and others in a difficult position. Previous episodes of public sympathy did not last long – one thinks of Aylan Kurdi who’s death so shocked the nation a few years ago – but it did not last. Safeguarding is a bureaucratic exercise and will be vital if abuse of refugees is not to happen. Those very same groups will find the backlash, if and when abuse is uncovered in the months to come, to be very damaging. Those same ministers who are currently praising the generosity of people and charities, will be quick to turn and start saying how important proper checks and safeguarding measures should have taken place.

It is another example of government ministers being all too willing to dump their responsibilities onto the voluntary and charity sectors and then to act all innocent when the problems appear. Charities should proceed with great caution.

Peter Curbishley

Author of How to be a Successful Trustee

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