I didn’t realise how complicated adopting Ukrainian refugees would be. I have a large terrace house in Hull, which I only need to live in about a quarter of, and for part of the year – being in Sweden for the rest – which would ideally suit the family that has just been allotted to me, after several months waiting; and which – apart from the fact that they have no English, and I of course no Ukrainian (we correspond, awkwardly, via Google Translate) – seem a pleasant bunch. They’ve promised to learn English, and will need to, of course, if they’re to have any hope of landing jobs (if they’re allowed to), or the two teenage girls if they’re to cope with an English school. As well as the girls, there’s a mother and a father – aren’t fathers quite rare, being expected to stay behind to defend their motherland? – all from somewhere in the south of Ukraine, but living in the Czech Republic just now; which I assume was their first port of refuge. There are other complications, which I hope won’t injure their claims for refugee status in the UK; but I understand that having a sponsor arranged for them already in Britain (me) will go a long way in their favour. It’s now up to them, and to Priti. (Gulp!)
It’s also up to me to demonstrate that my house is suitable for them, and that I’m a fit and proper person to be taking care of the girls in particular; being as I am one of those most dangerous creatures: a single man. To that end they’re running a ‘DBS’ (standing for Disclosure and Barring Service) check on me: a procedure of which of course I thoroughly approve. To help allay any suspicions on that score, however, I’ve also told the authorities about Kajsa, who will be living in the house with me some of the time; I thought they might be reassured by my having a woman around. But that’s meant that they’ll apparently have to do a DBS check on her too – in Sweden? – which complicates things a little. The other complication is that I can’t show them around my house while I’m abroad; but I hope they’ll let a neighbour do it for me.
It’s odd that having once written a book about mid-19th-century political refugees in Britain and their reception, I should now be in the position of receiving some 21st-century refugees into my own home. The situation between then and now is very different, of course. It may surprise people to know that there was very little of today’s anti-alienism in the 1850s – some, but not much, and certainly not directed at refugees; a theme which is explored in my Britain Before Brexit, published a couple of years ago. (Readers may want to correct me on this: Dickens, and so on; but I have the answers for them.)