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King’s College helping to bring hundreds of Ukrainian refugees to Britain

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One of the UK’s top universities is helping to bring hundreds of Ukrainians fleeing war to Britain in a groundbreaking scheme combining sanctuary with education.

King’s College London is working with Citizens UK, an umbrella charity with hundreds of member organisations, on a blueprint to bring Ukrainian refugees fleeing war to the UK. It is aiming to bring hundreds of refugees to the UK by Easter.

The government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme is based on community sponsorship but so far many of those who have come forward to help have been individuals. Prior to the Ukraine war a government community sponsorship scheme for refugees has operated for several years.

However, this is the first time a university is acting as a community sponsor for a large number of refugees.

King’s has a history of working on migration issues. Alongside academic research, its Sanctuary programme has helped refugees study while in camps in Jordan and Lebanon.

The university worked with the Home Office and the UN high commission for refugees (UNHCR) to get itself approved as a community sponsor for the first time in December 2021 to help a Syrian refugee student and her family come to the UK. That student is due to start a degree in electronic engineering at King’s later this year.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, King’s, working with Citizens UK, decided there was an urgent need to scale up the model.

It is understood that about 20 other universities have expressed interest in getting involved.

King’s and Citizens UK will be helping to bring Ukrainians to Britain as part of the Homes for Ukraine scheme, not only helping Ukrainian students who have had their university studies interrupted to find ways to continue with their education, but also providing at least six months of hosting with individuals connected to the university. They will also assist with practicalities such as making applications for universal credit.

King’s professor of global health and social medicine, Bronwyn Parry, (corr) said the first phase of the programme will match students with participating universities providing similar courses so they can try to keep in touch with their studies.

The students and their families may be deeply traumatised on arrival in Britain so will not have make immediate decisions about whether they will do a degree in the UK or stay here long term.

“As the UK’s first university to act as a community sponsor for a refugee student and their family displaced by the Syrian war, King’s is ideally placed to support other universities in their ambitions to host displaced students and academics,” said Parry.

The second phase of the scheme will help students who decide they do want to stay in the UK to secure scholarships to do so.

Jonathan Cox, the deputy director of Citizens UK, said his organisation has a target of bringing more than 1,000 displaced Ukrainians to the UK by Easter. Not all will be linked to the university community sponsorship scheme but it is hoped that about 250 will be.

Cox described the initiative between Citizens UK, King’s and other universities as “absolutely groundbreaking”.

He said his organisation was working with an organisation in Warsaw to match refugees to university hosts and that emphasis would be placed on carrying out appropriate disclosure and barring service (DBS) and other checks.

“We are doing this in a way that achieves scale but is also safe,” he said.