Hertsmere Borough Council unanimously passes motion on Ukraine

Last week at Hertsmere Borough Council, we passed a motion to provide extra support for Ukrainian refugees. Hertsmere stands in unity, across all parties, in the way it welcomes and aids its refugees, fleeing the abhorrent war crimes committed by Russia.

We were honoured to have Alia – a Ukrainian refugee, now seeking refuge in Hertsmere – to come and speak about her experience.

Here is what I said in support of the motion…

I too stand today in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. I think and pray for the families who are experiencing the hardest time of their lives, I think of families that have had to  split up, the fathers who have gone to fight and defend their land, and the women and children who have been left behind or have taken the difficult journey to the border and other countries in search for refuge. I pray for their safety and for their freedom. But beyond the lives lost, there are real worries and concerns which I would like to highlight.

Border and exploitation:

At of the start of April, more than 11 million people had fled their homes in Ukraine – and women and children make up 90% of those fleeing. On the border, we have read reports that these women and children are being targeted for exploitation, by those who pose as volunteers. Without the proper structures in place, those who have already lost loved ones and homes are being preyed upon. At the border point in Medyka, for example, there is no system for registering volunteers or monitoring the different groups and people accessing the border causing obvious concerns around exploitation. In this instance – prevention efforts are vital and working with the relevant organisations and stakeholders is paramount. Boosting registration of arrival and destination is required. Reception capacities for women, children and the vulnerable, at the border, should be enforced – to stop the exploiters before they have begun.

War tactics:

Last week, I was fortunate enough to meet Alia who you all met today. Alia spoke to Hilary Shade and I about the Russian soldiers and the heinous war tactics they have employed on the ground – rape and sexual violence. “Three Russian soldiers raped my mother and sister, The fourth made me watch was the headline in a news article I read yesterday. This is but one of 178 recorded cases including girls as young as 8 and 9. Alia discussed this with me and she is deeply worried about the lasting trauma that this inflicts on the children who stand and watch. In some instances, she said the mothers pass away or take their own lives. And yes of course this weakens the husbands and fathers at war – how can it not? These heinous war crimes blacken and darken our world. We claim to be one world, one family, so this means that the children stranded in Ukraine are our children; fathers defending their land, they’re our fathers; mothers suffering, they’re our mothers.

Homes for Ukraine:

And so it is only fitting that we all take our responsibility towards the Ukrainians very seriously. The government and local councils have a proud history of welcoming new arrivals and stepping forward at times of crisis. My own family experienced this back in 1972 when they were forced to flee Uganda’s Asian expulsion. HBC has helped Syrian resettlement a few years ago, is currently looking after the Afghan refugees and now have commenced their work on the Government’s new sponsorship scheme – ‘Homes for Ukraine’. 65,900 people have applied to the sponsorship scheme but only 39,300 have been issued, according to this week’s national Govt data. Locally, we have seen 117 adults and 96 children already arrive in Herts as part of this initiative, and in Hertsmere we have, to date, 52 sponsors matched with 67 guests.

Councils are required to carry out housing and safeguarding checks to ensure accommodation is of a suitable standard, that guests arriving in the UK are safe and the sponsors are safe too. The scheme tries to ensure that exploiters don’t profit from it, but  unfortunately, we have already seen news reports to this end and Alla also mentioned to me that she has had a number of inappropriate approaches including one by a single man looking for a girlfriend. Luckily she was smart about it and told him to go away!

To prevent matters from becoming worse, we must understand the journey and lived experience and all the key gaps in the refugee’s journey that can lead to vulnerabilities. Safeguarding checks on hosts need to be thorough, but as we can see from the data, also need to be swift. With oversight, women are at increased risk of exploitation, in addition to the trauma of displacement, family separation and violence already experienced. And after a call last week with the County council’s Ukrainian response team, who are leading this work with a wide range of partners through the Strategic Migration Group, under the guidance of Scott Crudington, Taryn Pearson-Rose and Morris Bright, and in partnership with district and borough councils including HBC, it’s reassuring to see how we are trying to be extremely robust in our vetting process and safeguarding and welfare checking, as well as the wider support for community integration.


Seeking asylum is a human right. No one wants to become a refugee or to leave their home; it is a journey of fear, uncertainty, peril and loss. Women and children are the most vulnerable. We are all trying to our best to help but with this help we must build knowledge of all the risks – both in Ukraine and here. We must share information with each other and with all our networks to make sure that we provide a safe and happy new start to the lives of those fleeing the war.