Today I am presenting our guidance on safe homes.
To build on the unprecedented solidarity we witnessed after the outbreak of war.
To help our citizens, house Ukrainian refugees,
In the chaos and uncertainty of the first week of the war.
We made history.
Member States unanimously adopted my proposal.
To activate the Temporary Protection Directive.
For the first and only time in its twenty years of existence.
Giving protection and rights to millions of Ukrainian refugees.
We showed solidarity as a Union.
And our citizens are showing that same solidarity in person.
I went to Romania, Poland Slovakia and the Czech Republic. To see for myself the needs on the ground.
And meet all these people that are showing solidarity
And I saw there how people opened their hearts and welcomed Ukrainians into their homes.
As they did spontaneously all over Europe.
I think of Laura, she’s living here in Brussels.
Who together with a neighbour – already in the first days of the war – housed Natalya and her daughter, Maria.
They soon became friends.
Hosts like Laura will tell you: Housing is more, than a roof over your head.
It’s helping to set up bank accounts and social support.
Helping with the local authorities.
Helping to find schools for the children.
And helping refugees to find a flat of their own.
Which Laura managed to do with the help of a church group.
Suddenly, you are responsible for someone’s life.
Suddenly you are taking big decisions for someone else.
A big responsibility, that can be a big emotional burden.
And it’s so private to share your home with someone you don’t know.
Who’s an individual with their own fears and dreams.
Who’s not here for a holiday, but fleeing a war zone.
When you ask Laura, would you do it again she said: “yes”.
But she also says “I would want a break first”.
And if you ask Laura what she needs most, she will tell you:
Help with all the practical things that need doing.
To not have to carry all this weight, alone.
We must help Laura and the hundreds of thousands of Europeans like her.
Who opened their homes to displaced people from Ukraine.
Depending on the Member State, private hosts provide between 20 to 90 per cent of accommodation to Ukrainian refugees.
Our citizens are doing so much – setting up WhatsApp groups to coordinate support, to share ideas, to match refugees with hosts for example.
Here in the Solidarity Platform, The Commission, Member States, EU agencies coordinate efforts to support refugees.
But we would simply not have been able to welcome so many Ukrainian refugees.
Without the spontaneous help of our citizens.
Of local administrations, of NGOs, of churches and charities,
International organisations, researchers, and the private sector,
So I welcome our special guests here today.
We owe you an enormous thanks.
But we must be realistic.
What can start spontaneously, can also end spontaneously.
Fatigue can set in.
We must now move from emergency response, to sustainable solutions.
And that’s why we are here today.
Today we publish our “Safe Homes Guidance”.
Guidance how to make private homes sustainable and safe.
Based on the lessons of the past few months.
Lessons that all of you provided.
We must now do three things.
First of all, we must support hosts.
For example by providing:
Question and answer guides. Websites with advice. Mentoring sessions.
Because no one knows from day one how to host a refugee.
Hosts need practical and moral support. We should stimulate host networks. Where people can lend a helping hand and offer a sympathetic ear.
And it’s essential to provide clarity about how long a refugee can stay in someone’s home. A few weeks, a few months, a few years: clarity is better for all involved.
Second, we need to do better in matching refugees with hosts.
Trusted websites – set up by governments or NGOs can centralise offers.
To be sure that a family of four does not end up in a one bedroom flat.
That a young woman alone feels at ease.
Or that pets are welcome.
Third, accommodation must be suitable and safe.
Refugees should not end up in damp basements or rotting buildings.
Authorities should check whether housing is adequate.
And they should screen hosts, to prevent vulnerable people from falling victim to traffickers or other abuse.
Social workers, medical personnel, police officers should visit regularly.
I heard of one host who was very happy police came round to check them out. Because it gave him confidence, that refugees are being protected.
And as I said: housing is more than a roof over your head. We now need to get children into schools, adults into jobs, the sick into medical care.
The European Union support these efforts not only with our guidance, but also with our funds.
Nearly 250 million euro from Home Affairs funds, with another 150 on its way, including targeted actions under the safe homes initiative.
Over 1 billion euro through the Cohesion Action for Refugees in Europe – also for housing displaced persons.
Above all, we need to continue building partnerships, in a true whole of society effort.
Partnerships with cities and regions who have received large numbers of Ukrainian refugees. Who know best what works on the ground.
Partnerships between Member States, Ukraine and the private sector.
Like the housing agreement for unaccompanied minors set up between Greece and Ukraine.
Involving business, and the United Nations.
Partnerships with architects, designers and planners, who can find new ways to house displaced people.
Like the modular shelters in Poland designed by a prize-winning architect.
Small partitions with toilets, showers, kitchens and play areas.
Built in a railway station and a former supermarket.
Intended for people staying for a few days before moving on.
Partnerships with people. Who get organised as a community to welcome refugees.
Like the “Welcome Circle” set up by HIAS, which helps to find safe housing, schools, and jobs.
Let me make an important observation.
We have witnessed over the last few months not just heart warming solidarity.
We have witnessed a tectonic shift in how in Europe we welcome refugees.
In contrast to for example Canada, where community sponsorship is the norm. And charities, churches and business take the lead in integrating migrants.
Normally in Europe, we consider the state alone in charge of asylum and migration.
But in the last few months, society has taken responsibility, people have taken responsibility. On an unprecedented scale. On a continental scale.
I very much hope that the practical issues we discuss today.
Can form the foundation for a new European model for welcoming refugees.
One where society takes a bigger role, supported by the states.
Where you – our special guests here today – are important in showing how this should be done.
You can be strong in the knowledge that the European Union and Member States are there to support you.
Because we meet at a very important time.
The “end of the beginning” as Churchill might have said.
It’s clear the war will not be over soon.
People may get tired. People may lose hope.
We must say: “don’t stop now”.
It’s true things won’t get easier
But we passed the first test.
And if we all work together. More closely and tightly than ever before.
And if we remember that extraordinary solidarity and goodwill of the first months of the war.
Then we will also overcome whatever obstacle lies ahead of us.
I am very eager to listen to all your experiences and contributions.