Mitigating risk when offering to accommodate a refugee
The devastation inflicted on civilians in Ukraine has motivated us to act. It might be to protest or donate. And for some, it might be to go much further and offer to host refugees. Just as the conflict itself has caused butchers and bakers to transform themselves, so too does offering to host an unknown person or family forced to flee. Few of us are prepared, nor have thought through the ramifications of opening up our doors. And yet, in doing so we should still exercise caution.
While the majority of refugees seeking shelter are deserving, there are some with criminal intent. They might be genuinely in harm’s way, but still, they are looking for an unsuspecting mark.
The Onus is On You
At the most fundamental level, one has to validate that the prospective guests are truly in need, will not threaten your safety, and would be able to cohabitate. But beyond that, one has to understand how your lifestyle which you are risking will be impacted by others, whether you will be able to communicate, and what else will be expected of you. Hosting might be supported by a local program offsetting some of your costs, but you might be expected to help with completing applications, and having longer-term guests might bestow tenant rights to your guests.
Points to Cover
Getting a sense of the guest(s) is critical. Some sites offer some ideas, but few provide a comprehensive survey. Cobbling together thoughts of others (like Daniel Keeran), there are topics you should discuss to help decide.
For starters, determine the backstory of the refugee(s). Get evidence that this person/people is/are who they claim to be. Ask to see/about:
- Home city, address
- Facebook / social media account
- Languages spoken
- Who they are leaving behind
- What possessions are they bringing
As part of the conversation, listen for examples and compare them to the references given. As the conversation progresses, if details fail to mesh, then flag such.
Determine how they will fit in with your lifestyle:
- Are they bringing or okay with pets, kids, etc.
- Daily routines
- Medical challenges
Ask them to list their own expectations in coming to stay with you:
- What is the time frame?
- Can they help with the costs?
- Are they going to try to find employment? Learn the local language or other skills?
Depending upon the ages, kids need to be spoken to differently. Perhaps you will ask more about foods, sports, what they like in school, and how they get on with their siblings. Schooling can tell you a bit about the child. What subjects does the child enjoy? Can the child read and write? What extra-curricular activities motivate them? What do they miss being away from home? From this, ask yourself if you will be able to place them locally in school? And how any language barriers would be overcome.
You can learn a lot about people from the conversations you have, but you need to listen. Do not interrupt but instead use silence to extract as much as possible. Note your thoughts so that you can circle back later.
With everything you ask about, keep their trauma in mind. And further, ask yourself, are you prepared to help these people move on and re-establish their sense of security. Tease such out of your prospective guest(s) by asking wooly questions such as what does kindness mean to you? And be prepared for the worst. There might come a day when tragic news befalls your guests, demoralizing them which could cause extreme reactions. Or they might ask you to accept more guests with whom they are emotionally invested.
You and Your Family Are Also Vested
Rather than answering immediately, leave yourself some time to mull over an offer. You might have missed something that your subconscious picked up. While time is critical, your safety is too.
While being a good samaritan is part of our culture, we need to also look out for ourselves. As a Newspaperworld article on reducing stress pointed out, we should not go out of our way to create more problems for ourselves. In contemplating hosting the particular refugee(s) with whom you are speaking, imagine what the typical day will look like. And then go beyond that. Ask yourself, what happens on weekends, if you or your partner has to be away from home, or if you are still hosting and will go on holiday.
When you have satisfied yourself to extend the invitation, you then need to lay down what will be your ground rules. Having discussed and compared your lifestyles, determine how far you can bend your own routine and establish everybody’s expectations in advance. And then, get your guests to agree to such; perhaps by signing a document (which could also be useful if you must evict them legally).
Finally, be prepared with a checklist of what to do if things do not work out. Consider, other situations where you could find yourself stuck. For example, the same rules that you might if you are in a job that you hate, though a different circumstance, can apply.
Your ground rules should establish a way to end the relationship in advance. Remember, you lose some rights the moment somebody moves in. And if your guests have no sense that there is a redline where they could be asked to leave, they will not have any fear that such could come to pass.
“No good deed goes unpunished” is an apt but unsatisfying, epitaph. You can still do good in other ways, hosting is just an option. So do your homework and be sure before you hand over your spare key.