For Nina Kaye, her city’s participation in the national wave of sympathy for Ukraine can be measured in numbers. For the past two weeks, she has been receiving about 100 emails a day from people providing assistance to refugees arriving in Epsom, an affluent suburb of London.

Kaye, an Epsom Refugee Network coordinator, sat in the Zig Zag cafe on the city’s main street and explained that one of the main obstacles to contacting Ukrainians among the millions fleeing the Russian invasion.

Her experience highlights the challenge of sparking huge public enthusiasm for the Homes for Ukraine program, which has prompted approximately 150,000 individuals and organizations to register to host Ukrainians ahead of its launch on Friday.

Under the rules of the scheme, anyone wishing to sponsor a refugee must provide the names of those they sponsor. Kaye, who is now retired from a career in classical music administration, was concerned that smaller groups would not be able to connect hosts with those in need.

“It looks like the UK government is turning the whole thing over to small, local charities like us,” she said. “There are so many small, voluntary charities that support refugees. But we are only small organizations.”

Tim Finch, a consultant working with Citizens UK, an alliance of community activists, said there was both a strong demand for shelter and a supply of accommodation.

“The problem is connecting those two things,” he said. “Right now, it’s probably the biggest problem getting this scheme to work, besides protection [the refugees]†

In the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Mayfair, in central London, desks, telephone lines and computers are set up in the hall of the church to create a clearing house to process the information of those who need shelter and those who want them. house.

Kenneth Nowakowski, bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Britain, hoped the process would improve soon. “I think everyone is working on finding more streamlined ways to get information to the people who want to help,” he said.

In Epsom, the Zig Zag cafe founded by Makhoul Georges, a refugee from Syria, has become an informal base for members of the refugee network. They all have long experience of hosting people fleeing war from countries such as Syria, Iran and Somalia.

Flip Bakker, a builder and electrician originally from the Netherlands, said he wanted to provide support because it was “unbearable” to see people struggling, and he realized that everyone might need such support someday.

Bakker, who registered the Epsom network’s willingness to arrange shelter for Ukrainian families, said the process had proved “simple”, although he was unsure how the group’s offer would be passed on to those in need.

“You just wonder how people will be notified that this is an open door,” he said.

Donna Williams, another volunteer, who has hosted 17 refugees in her home since the network’s inception in 2015, expressed frustration that the burden of finding Ukrainians to sponsor was halting the process of getting them to safety. .

Donna Williams, a volunteer who has hosted refugees in the pastDonna Williams has hosted 17 refugees in her home since 2015. She says the burden of finding Ukrainians to sponsor is halting the process of getting them to safety © Anna Gordon/FT

Williams said she started hosting refugees after she became a widow and that being part of groups like Refugees at Home — a larger charity dedicated to community sponsorship programs — has been supportive.

“I had people in the same situation as me,” she said of the lonely, isolated refugees she took in. “Fortunately, they had the same open attitude.”

Reset UK, the government-funded organization that coordinates community sponsorship programs for refugees, launched a site Friday where Ukrainians can express their interest in coming to Britain.

Finch pointed to the site’s launch as evidence of the “huge amount of energy” needed to make the match between refugees and hosts run more smoothly. “While there is certainly a problem now, it is certainly a problem that can be solved.”

Michael Gove, the leveling secretary overseeing the scheme, has indicated that he plans to move from the current model to one that does not require sponsors to do the intensive work of finding individual Ukrainians home.

“We will be expanding the scheme quickly and in phases to include charities, churches and community groups to ensure that many more potential sponsors can be linked to Ukrainians in need of assistance,” Gove told the Commons this week.

On Friday, the government said Ukrainian refugees without family members can now apply for visas under the sponsorship scheme through the government’s website to streamline the process.

Nowakowski expressed his gratitude for the government’s efforts and said he believed there was no lack of will on its part to help. But he pointed out that Britain was the only one in Europe to require Ukrainians seeking refuge to apply for visas before traveling.

Kenneth Nowakowski, Bishop for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Great BritainKenneth Nowakowski points out that Britain is the only one in Europe to require Ukrainians to apply for visas before traveling © Anna Gordon/FT

The UK currently requires visas for Ukrainians coming to Britain, both under the Homes for Ukraine program and the family reunification route opened earlier this month.

“My personal wish is that we can probably waive the visa requirement for about two months, to find out when people come here,” Nowakowski said.

Meanwhile, members of the refugee network in Epsom discussed ways they could have helped refugees in the past, such as opening bank accounts, registering with doctors and, in many cases, learning English.

They were eager to connect with people and put their experience to good use, Kaye acknowledged.

“The tragedy is that there are so many willing people here – and we can really, really help – but we need help bringing our willing hosts together with refugees.”

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