Positive Action in Housing, a charity supporting Ukrainian refugees, claims that not a single UK visa has been issued to people that they are helping. Despite the launch of a new scheme nearly two weeks ago, which allows individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to provide refuge for those seeking safety, many have been left to find help elsewhere.
The majority of refugees are turning to help from strangers on social media, sparking fears of human trafficking as people looking to reach Britain resort to desperate measures. Positive Action said that in one week alone it has been helping 483 Ukrainian families, young people and unaccompanied minors looking for a sponsor who will shelter them.
However, despite the launch of the Homes for Ukraine scheme opening on 14 March, refugee groups have blasted the initiative saying that the forms involved in securing a UK visa are ‘tortuous and confusing’.
People stranded in Ukraine
Refugee groups have also claimed that people stranded in the besieged Ukrainian city of Kharkiv would leave now had the UK government granted them a visa to come to Britain.
However, Positive Action in Housing claims that none of the 483 people it is helping has been granted a UK visa.
Robina Qureshi, the director of the charity – which operates Room for Refugees, the longest refugee-hosting programme in the UK – said: “The government made a fanfare of its Homes for Ukraine Community sponsorship programme. Michael Gove told Parliament on 14 March that there was no limit on the numbers coming in.”
“Yet, none of the families we are supporting have yet got a visa to travel under the Community Sponsorship scheme and are still waiting,” Ms Qureshi added.
Ukrainians at risk
According to Ms Qureshi, Ukrainians are putting themselves at greater risk as they endure long waits for a UK visa. In particular, many are ‘advertising’ their plight on social media, sparking fears that the Ukraine-Russia conflict will be exploited by people traffickers.
Ms Qureshi said: “Unaccompanied minors, young women, women with young children, have told us they met someone on social media who offered to be a sponsor under Homes for Ukraine.”
“Refugees are turning to wholly unsafe methods of getting here, meeting people in Facebook groups, on social media. And this Government is responsible for giving people false hope and putting them further in the way of danger,” she added.
The Positive Action in Housing director went on to warn that human traffickers thrive on refugees who are displaced by conflict because they are vulnerable and desperate.
Qureshi described the Homes for Ukraine scheme as a ‘gimmick’, which she claims has resulted in ‘obvious and dangerous breaches of basic safeguarding’ that have all been instigated by the Home Office.
Waive visa restrictions
Ms Qureshi has urged the government to waive UK visa restrictions for Ukrainians so that those affected by the conflict with Russia have the confidence to travel to Britain.
Meanwhile, the UK’s minister for policing, Kit Malthouse, claims that the government has welcomed hundreds of refugees under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, and official numbers will be published in due course.
The Home Office has so far declined to comment on the numbers arriving via the scheme.
A separate government immigration initiative, the Ukraine Family Scheme, allows Ukrainian nationals with relatives or settled status in the UK to join them or extend their stay in Britain if they are already in the country.
A spokesperson for the UK government said: “No UK visa is issued by the Home Office until checks have been completed on the Ukrainian applicant as well as on every adult in a sponsor’s household.”
“Local authorities will then run DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) checks on sponsors, with enhanced DBS with barred list checks for those housing families with children or vulnerable adults. Under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, Ukrainians will be guaranteed free access to NHS healthcare, including mental health care,” the spokesperson added.
It’s understood that Ukrainian refugees will also be able to work in the UK and access benefits. Meanwhile, the UK government has said that local authorities have the appropriate level of funding to support new arrivals.
Unlike all other European nations, the UK has not waived visa restrictions for Ukrainian refugees, citing fears of Russian infiltration as one of the key concerns. However, Britain’s stance has drawn strong criticism from across Europe, especially from French President, Emmanuel Macron who said the UK has ‘failed to live up to its grand statements’.
Meanwhile, several government ministers have distanced themselves from taking in Ukrainian refugees under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, and Labour leader, Keir Starmer, have each stated that they won’t be welcoming people into their homes.
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