European countries are cutting housing support for refugees, leaving vulnerable groups at risk

Published: Apr 29, 2024 Reading time: 3 minutes
Photo from March 2022 from the Regional Assistance Centre for Helping Ukraine in Pilsen.
© Foto: Veronika Zimová

Support for Ukrainian refugees in Europe remains strong, but many countries are gradually reducing their assistance. The most significant changes concern the funding of emergency accommodation. Cutting back on benefits raises concerns about how the changes will affect those who rely on some form of support.

War refugees from Ukraine living in the Czech Republic are awaiting a change in the accommodation reimbursement system. As of September 2024, the state will reimburse refugees for accommodation in non-residential premises, such as hostels or guesthouses, only for new arrivals and only for 90 days after the state grants them temporary protection. Currently, the state provides accommodation for 150 days.

One major change is the end of exemptions for so-called vulnerable persons. These exemptions include children, students up to 26 years of age, seniors over 65, pregnant women, single parents with children up to 6 years old, disabled persons, and their caretakers.

Slovakia

Slovakia is also reducing their support. With effect from the beginning of April, the state has reduced aid for short-term accommodation in non-residential premises from €12 to €6 per person per night, regardless of age. The allowance for owners of flats and houses remains €5.

Further changes will arrive at the beginning of July. From July, accommodation providers will receive support for a maximum of 120 days after the state grants the residents temporary protection. However, unlike in the Czech Republic, exceptions for vulnerable persons are expected to remain in place.

According to the Slovak Ministry of the Interior, refugees should be motivated to integrate into everyday life and contribute by paying for necessities independently. At the same time, the ministry argues that the current level of support imposes too great a strain on public finances.

However, NGOs working with migrants warn that reducing support carries several risks. For example, more and more families are considering returning to Ukraine, where their lives may be in danger. Others are seeking alternative forms of accommodation, such as collectives or dormitories. Isolation in such facilities will then negatively affect their integration into society.

Western and Northern Europe

Other countries that have significantly reduced their support for Ukrainian refugees include Ireland and Norway. In each case, however, the changes apply only to new arrivals. The governments of both countries explain the changes as attempts to limit the secondary migration of refugees from countries where they have already received temporary protection.

In the future, Ireland will only offer free accommodation to refugees from Ukraine for up to 90 days. They will then reduce financial support from €232 per week (the highest in the EU) to just €39. In Norway, the authorities now offer free accommodation only when refugees register at the National Arrivals Centre in Råde, south-eastern Norway. They no longer provide financial support to those who find their own accommodation.

The most radical reduction in accommodation support has occurred in Scotland. Until last year, the Scottish government was part of the refugee reception system, under which the Scottish government could play the role of a sponsor providing accommodation for refugees. By the end of 2023, over 17,000 Ukrainian refugees had benefited from the scheme. Many of them were accommodated in hotels or specially adapted boats.

This year, however, the government has refused to allocate money for the programme. Local authorities must now bear the burden of emergency accommodation for those refugees who are not self-sufficient. The City of Edinburgh Council has expressed concern that cutting funding will have "unintended consequences", such as increased homelessness.

Scotland has so far taken in nearly 27,000 refugees from Ukraine. However, only around 2,000 continue to benefit from temporary accommodation provided by the government. By contrast, the vast majority of new arrivals have already found their own accommodation.

Autor: Jakub Andrle, Migration Awareness

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