Government accused of 'unleashing chaos' through Homes for Ukraine scheme
More than 122,000 Britons have registered their interest in taking in Ukrainians
The Government is “unleashing chaos” through its Homes for Ukraine scheme and refugees could die before they are matched with a sponsor and can safely reach the UK, a charity has warned.
The scheme is a “smokescreen” and distraction from what really needs to happen, which is remove the visa requirement for Ukrainians like other European countries have done, said Robina Qureshi, director of Positive Action in Housing.
More than 122,000 Britons have registered their interest in taking in Ukrainians, and those who have found someone to sponsor will be able to apply from Friday.
The scheme aims to match refugees with individuals, charities and other organisations who can provide accommodation for at least six months, enabling Ukrainians without family ties in the UK to enter the country.
But Ms Qureshi said the Government had put NGOs in an “invidious” position and foistered the scheme on them without prior consultation.
She only expects a “trickle” of refugees to arrive through the scheme because they will have to find people to become sponsors while abroad before they can apply, and then make their own way to the UK.
She said it could take “months and months of processing” to safely match people to appropriate homes.
She told the PA news agency: “The people that need to come here, their life depends on being able to get into this country using the current route, and that’s what’s worrying us more than more than anything.
“Are some of the people going to be alive by the time the process has been gone through?
“They should be letting people in now, but the Government is doing to refugees what they’ve done to the Syrians and to Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, and what they’re doing is to reduce to an absolute minimum the number of refugees making their way to the UK in the midst of the worst refugee crisis since World War Two.”
Positive Action in Housing runs Room for Refugees, the UK’s longest running refugee hosting programme which has been in place since 2002.
Ms Qureshi said the charity is receiving around 40 calls and up to 150 emails an hour from Brits wanting to offer accommodation to Ukrainian refugees.
Almost 70 Ukrainian refugee families have registered with the charity, including 60 children and several heavily pregnant women currently in Ukraine, France, Poland, Belgium and Germany.
The team will be working through the night to match them with vetted people who have registered as potential sponsors, and to support them while they apply for visas from Friday.
Ms Qureshi also questioned how many people who have expressed an interest via the Government’s website will have to withdraw because they later realise they do not have “the physical or mental room”.
She said: “We do not have half a hosting program in place.
“All they’ve got is expressions of interest – they have not identified individuals to match them up…. this is an illusion of people helping because they’re distracting from the fact that they haven’t lifted visa restrictions.”
It comes as the Government was urged to set up an emergency airlift for Ukrainian refugees on the Polish border.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said the UK Government should provide free flights to the UK, as well as coaches to take people from border crossing points to the airport.
Writing to Home Secretary Priti Patel and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, he also called for welcome centres to be opened for refugees arriving in Britain.
The public has been praised for its “hugely generous response” after the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal reached £200 million – two weeks after launching.
This equates to around £3 for every person in the UK, the DEC said.
The Refugee Council said it has several concerns about the scheme, specifically around red tape, safeguarding and resourcing.
Andy Hewett, head of advocacy, said it is concerned the scheme could be “too slow and complex” to help the most vulnerable, and said it favours those who already have a contact in the UK, who may not necessarily be the most at risk.
James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, said councils will need to be given as much data as possible on who a visa has been issued to, such as their age, medical and educational needs, family make-up, and more clarity on the safeguarding and accommodation checks they will need.
He acknowledged councils will not be able to do everything they would like to do “up front” but said “taking people from a very, very, very dangerous situation to a relatively safe space is something that we need to do as quickly as possible”.
He told PA: “I think this will be a two-stage process: there will be an initial check, let’s get people away from the bombs as fast as possible, because clearly a bomb landing on your head is a very dangerous situation.
“And then once we’ve got them here, we’ve got a roof over their head and we’ve moved on from the immediate danger, then I think there will be a second or third process or a phase where we will go back, we will check what the situation’s like with these people in this accommodation.”
Under the separate Ukraine family scheme, 6,100 visas have been issued as of 4pm on Wednesday, the Home Office said.
Some 25,000 applications have been submitted.