Ministers have been accused of preventing desperately vulnerable people from reaching sanctuary in the UK as it emerged that just one in 10 applications to the Homes for Ukraine scheme have been granted.
Government figures published on Wednesday show that 28,300 applications have been submitted under the sponsorship scheme since it launched nearly two weeks ago, of which 2,700 have so far been allowed.
However, when asked how many Ukrainians had arrived in the UK under the scheme, refugees minister Richard Harrington declined to give a figure, saying it was “too early” to publish the data.
Meanwhile, Labour ministers have sent a letter to home secretary Priti Patel and levelling up minister Michael Gove, urging them to address the “shameful” situation that is leaving refugees waiting “in limbo” before they can reach safety.
The letter, sent jointly by shadow ministers Yvette Cooper and Lisa Nandy, states: “The shameful scale of bureaucracy is preventing desperately vulnerable people from reaching sanctuary in the UK.
“While the response of the British public has been overwhelming, with more than 150,000 families signed up to open their homes, the system you have created is squandering that generosity and failing to deliver the support that our country rightly wants to provide.”
It adds: “The government has known for months about the potential invasion of Ukraine by Russia. It is therefore unacceptable that, more than a month on from the start of the conflict, there has been so little progress, and there are so many people waiting in limbo before they can reach some security and support.”
The Homes for Ukraine scheme is designed to allow Ukrainians with no family links to come to Britain and be hosted by members of the public, who will be paid £350 per month for doing so. More than 150,000 people have so far registered their interest in hosting.
Responding to the figures, Sonya Sceats, chief executive at Freedom from Torture, said: “In a month where people across the country signed up to welcome more refugees than the government has in 10 years, these woeful numbers prove why visa-based schemes are an unsuitable gateway for refugees fleeing Ukraine to reach safety here in the UK.
“Increasing reports of horrendous sexual violence against Ukrainian women and girls make it all the more urgent for the government to cut the red tape, so that survivors can get here quickly and access services from specialist trauma services like Freedom from Torture.”
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael described the government’s response as “appallingly slow and chaotic, leaving thousands of Ukrainians in limbo trying to get a visa”.
“Ministers need to work harder and faster to match the compassion shown by the British public. Ukrainian refugees should be allowed to come to the UK now, without first having to apply for a visa,” he added.
Refugees minister Lord Harrington said: “The response of the British public has been incredible, opening their hearts and homes to the people of Ukraine, and we must do everything we can to make the most of this extraordinary generosity.
“We are starting to see progress because of changes the Home Office made to streamline the visa process and put additional resources into the system. However, we need to do more and will be making further improvements to bring people to the UK as quickly as possible.”
The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.
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