The international armed conflict in Ukraine has led to the displacement of over 7 million people across Europe. A significant number of these people have sought shelter in neighbouring countries like Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, while others have moved onward to countries like Belgium, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Since the escalation of the conflict on February 2022, we have witnessed a commendable wave of solidarity from people in Europe: from offering essential material assistance, to opening up their private homes to host people who have fled Ukraine.
To help authorities and civil society in organising private housing initiatives and to promote suitable and safe accommodation, the European Commission has developed the ''Safe Homes Guidance". The Safe Homes Programme, funded by the Asylum Migration and Integration Fund, is an ambitious initiative that aims to support the operationalisation of this guidance in the EU and to develop a transnational practice model. The programme is currently being implemented by the Red Cross in Belgium, France, Ireland, Hungary, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
Safe Homes bridges day-to-day operational implementation with a transnational reflection on good practices and lessons learned through two interconnected modules. The operational module aims to facilitate access to suitable and safe accommodation in private homes. Activities include a comprehensive mapping of private hosting initiatives and actors, defining effective matching processes and referral mechanisms, providing guidance and offering support for both hosts and hosted individuals. The stakeholder engagement and lessons learned module aims to support national authorities and implementing partners in reflecting on their work and creating a robust model of good practices.
In each country, the Red Cross society is implementing the Safe Homes programme in different ways. For example, based on the experiences gained from the successful Slovakia Hosting Assistance programme, the Slovak Red Cross has adopted a model that for the first time, places people fleeing armed conflict in private homes. Engaging with local communities and newcomers, the Slovak Red Cross offers comprehensive social follow up to hosting and hosted families.
On the other hand, the Irish Red Cross has built on its role in matching hosting and hosted families since 2015, when it launched an online register for people to pledge private accommodation for those fleeing Syria. Thanks to the Irish Red Cross’ long-term involvement in this kind of work, as of June 2023, 6,420 people displaced from Ukraine are accommodated in 3,000 homes and vacant properties.
National Societies like the Netherlands Red Cross have embraced innovative approaches within the implementation of the Safe Homes programme. Together with other organisations and a network of volunteers, they have been actively coordinating private accommodation, matching 3,411 displaced people with 1,683 hosts over the course of nine months. This has been done using an online registration system through RefugeeHomeNL. Aside from regular social follow up with hosted families, the Luxembourg Red Cross also facilitates monthly conversation groups with hosting families to foster a space for in-group motivation and support.
In a context of housing shortages, where accommodation is scarce and rents are ramping up, the main challenge faced by many National Societies is how to enable hosted families to transition towards sustainable longer-term housing alternatives.
Beyond the day-to-day work with hosting and hosted families, the programme also allows for an in-depth analysis of the phenomenon of private hosting in different European countries, with research currently being conducted in France, Belgium, Romania and Hungary. The aim is to grasp the full picture of the hosting situation in these countries, which will not only allow for better decision-making in the short term, but could also inform strategies for potential future initiatives which relate to providing safe and suitable accommodation.
This comprehensive programme, driven by the dedication of individuals, organisations and national authorities, aims to provide safe homes for people who have fled Ukraine and support their integration into national systems. The anticipated outcome of the Safe Homes Programme is to establish a replicable model of dignified housing for protection seekers that can be implemented in future emergencies. Throughout the year-long programme, National Societies are exchanging good practices and lessons learned and engaging authorities and other civil society actors in this reflection. Case studies and good practices derived from this initiative will be shared through a Practitioners Handbook and a Lessons Learned report upon the programme’s conclusion to help solidify a legacy of empathy, innovation and cooperation in response to global displacement and the movement of people across borders.
Safe Homes Programme
Belgium, France, Ireland, Hungary, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania and Slovakia
February 2023 to April 2024
Belgian Red Cross, French Red Cross, Irish Red Cross, Luxembourg Red Cross, Netherlands Red Cross, Hungarian Red Cross, Polish Red Cross, Romanian Red Cross, Slovak Red Cross, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Red Cross EU Office (RCEU).