Ukraine crisis: how HR can help refugees

More than 2.8 million people have fled Ukraine following the Russian invasion, according to the UN. With a large group of British businesses, including M&S, Asos and Lush now pledging to hire refugees, how can HR best make a difference to those who have been displaced?

Matthew Powell, CEO and founder of refugee employment charity Breaking Barriers, told HR magazine that the charity understands Ukrainians arriving by means of the sponsored 'Homes for Ukraine' visa (and those arriving on Ukrainian Family Visas) will have the right to work as soon as they arrive in the UK.

Asylum seekers to the UK are normally denied the right to work until they are granted or denied official refugee status, a process which takes up to six months.

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Powell added: “Tangible information, however, about how the scheme will work, the vetting process, and other safety concerns are yet to be communicated. 

“We would urge HR teams to start looking at how they would practically support Ukrainians and the wider refugee community within their business as soon as possible.”

The government recently (12 March) announced the Homes for Ukraine scheme, in which people, charities, communities and businesses will be given grants to host Ukrainian families and individuals.

Yesterday, health secretary Sajid Javid announced that there would be no limit to to the number of grants given to those hosting refugees.

About 4,000 Ukrainians have been granted visas to the UK so far since the invasion.

According to a report by Breaking Barriers and the non-profit refugee support organisation Tent, English language skills, not having work experience and UK social networks, and a lack of UK recognised educational or professional qualifications will be the main barriers to employment.

Shakil Butt, founder of HR Hero for Hire, used to be HR and OD director at UK aid charity Islamic Relief Worldwide, which works extensively with refugees.

He told HR magazine: “Giving people dignity in their darkest times means treating them like people, not another statistic or casualty of a war not of their making.”

In the early stages of reception, HR can perform a vital role in helping refugees to remember their worth at a time when they may be feeling helpless, he said.

“Among refugees there is always a cross-section of people, from all walks of life and with a range of skillsets, so identifying what each person is capable of can be one way of utilising the existing human resources on site while waiting for more support to come. 

“This can help empower and provide purpose [to the refugees] rather than treating them as incapable of contributing or as being purely reliant on others.”

Butt added that the response of the HR profession has been heartening to see. 

Many HR professionals have been sharing resources and messages of support on social media such as LinkedIn under the tag #HRforUkraine in a show of solidarity with those displaced by the conflict.

"This is not the only war taking place right now, and human misery is not restricted to Europe, or one nation.

“We need to continue to be proactive once the media attention has moved on – and it will.”