Clergy hosting for Ukrainian Refugees – an interview
An interview with Father Matthew Cashmore of St Anselm, Hayes who has been hosting a Ukrainian refugee and her seven-year-old son. Her name has been changed in this article.
Are you able to tell us a little bit about your guests’ story?
They were in Mariupol in Eastern Ukraine where 85-90% of buildings have now been destroyed. They were at the forefront of the initial bombardment but in the first instance they stayed. There were several attempts to leave the city all of which were violent and bloody. On the third or fourth attempt they got out leaving behind family who are still yet to leave. They travelled to the relative safety of Western Ukraine and then across the border into Poland where they were in a refugee camp for mothers and children for nearly six months.
A week before Lisa’s refugee visa ran out, we drove out to get them with a car full of stuff for that camp and were able to bring a lot of their belongings back as well.
How did the hosting process happen?
We signed up with five or six different agencies and had lots of visits! The Diocese put us in touch with a Bristol based charity who matched us with Lisa. All the paperwork was done by the charity and following a WhatsApp video conversation with Lisa a plan was hatched!
What led you to become a host?
How can you not? There was no real thought or family conversation. When I heard about the homes for Ukraine scheme on the news I thought, it’s no good sitting here frustrated with the government for not doing enough when there’s something that I can do. I filled the form out on my iPhone and then told my wife who also said ‘of course, why on earth wouldn’t we?!’
Was there anything you had reservations about before you started hosting?
It’s not about whether you have a great relationship. You’re not looking for a housemate or a lodger. These are people who literally are fleeing… who have had cars blown up in front of them, who have seen their apartment blocks destroyed, who have seen their friends and family die. What possible reservations could I have about inviting someone in that position into my home?
What support or information has been most helpful to you in your hosting journey?
The Compassionate Communities team at the Diocese of London have been brilliant. They set up a website very early on with links to various agencies and provided lots of support. We are hugely impressed with the work that they are doing. Out of all the different agencies we have interacted with, they are by far the most efficient, the most kind, the most supportive and the easiest place to find stuff.
Could you say a little about what hosting has been like for you personally? How has it affected your day-to-day life?
The house is big enough that it doesn’t affect day to day life too much. Our guests are fairly self-contained. The only negotiations are around a shared bathroom.
You have to accept that there will have been a great deal of psychological trauma and so you attempt to tread lightly which in turn sheds a light on your own privilege.
Is there anything you’ve particularly learnt?
We are hugely wealthy and incredibly comfortable and secure. I’d not appreciated that for a very long time. It has brought us closer together as a family and made us appreciate what we have. I have particularly enjoyed watching that appreciation grow in my nine-year-old son.
Have there been any challenges?
Admin’ in the early days was hard. The process is much swifter and more joined up now – taking about three weeks. But in the early days – for fear of not doing something that should have been done – all the different agencies were doing the same welfare and safeguarding checks!
As far as you are able to say, what impact has hosting had on your guests?
I suspect that they feel like they are still in a state of travel. They may be here for six months, twelve months or longer. However long they need. But this is just another temporary stop on the journey.
Lisa is a guest, but she is looking for normality and to take control in her life which she won’t be able to be when she is living in someone else’s house.
She still feels like she is in motion and the trauma will come out when she stops.
As a host you can think ‘people have had dreadful experiences we need to be prepared to deal with psychological trauma that may manifest.’ The reality is that none of that will manifest until the person feels safe enough for that to manifest.
You know it is there and you know it’s going to come but you don’t know when.
What do you hope for their future?
That they are safe and then everything else will figure itself out.
What would you say to clergy who were considering hosting?
Why haven’t you done it yet? It is your moral responsibility. If you are at all able to, do it!
Citizens UK have recently reported that they have 678 applicants for hosting currently in the system and a further 2000 applications once they have managed to find homes for them.
The Compassionate Communities team at London Diocese can help you if are in the Diocese of London and hosting is something you would like to explore.