In April 2022, the Executive Office established Ukraine Assistance Centres to welcome Ukrainians fleeing to Northern Ireland. The Law Centre attended the centres to provide immigration advice. Through our work, we encountered a number of Ukrainians in difficult situations involving lack of immigration status, homelessness, labour exploitation and risk of gender-based harm.
This paper is informed by Law Centre’s work at the centres and proposes a number of measures to strengthen the reception model. We also argue that the model should be extended to people fleeing war and persecution from other parts of the world.
Summary of Recommendations
The Law Centre Recommends that:
1. an extra step is inserted into the UAC safeguarding process to risk assess for situations of harm;
2. the presence of risk factors would trigger more intensive vetting, enhanced scrutiny and monitoring of the living arrangements and, where relevant, priority for rematching;
3. a flexible short-term support service is developed to ensure that assistance can be rapidly deployed to provide appropriate follow up support where necessary;
4. a pathway is developed for a direct referral from a UAC into specialist gender-sensitive support services where necessary;
5. TEO resources the development of gender-sensitive community-based programmes that are specifically aimed at helping Ukrainian women to understand their Istanbul Convention rights in NI;
6. measures are adopted to ensure that Ukrainians who are working in the Seasonal Worker sector are aware and can avail of the Ukraine Extension Scheme;
7. all reports of poor working practices are referred to the relevant statutory agencies;
8. all Ukraine Scheme visa holders can access the £200 Payment;
9. ad hoc financial resources are available for use at the UACs to meet essential immediate costs;
10. TEO develops targeted communications to inform Ukrainian refugees of how they can access on-going support.