Ukrainian refugees who have fled to UK placed in asylum hotels

Exclusive: ‘Urgent clarity’ needed on rights of Ukrainians arriving in Britain without visas as some families being put into asylum process that is ‘not fit for purpose’

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 24 March 2022 13:23 GMT
Some Ukrainians are being placed in asylum hotel accommodation, prompting concern there is a ‘discriminatory’ approach towards those arriving without visas
Some Ukrainians are being placed in asylum hotel accommodation, prompting concern there is a ‘discriminatory’ approach towards those arriving without visas (AFP via Getty Images)

Ukrainians who have arrived in the UK after fleeing from war have been placed in hotels for asylum seekers, The Independent has learnt.

Ministers are facing calls to provide “urgent clarity” on the rights of Ukrainian refugees entering Britain without visas after it emerged a number have arrived via ferry from Ireland in recent weeks.

In some cases they have ended up in hotel accommodation, prompting concern that this leaves them in a system that is “not fit for purpose” and where they will face long delays on their asylum decision, creating a discriminatory approach towards those arriving without visas.

The UK government has introduced two schemes to help Ukrainians: one enabling them to join relatives in Britain and the other allowing them to come to the country if they know a member of the British public who is able and willing to house them.

However, the application processes for both schemes have been fraught with delays and complications, which has reportedly led some Ukrainians to make their own way to the UK without visas.

Bromsgrove and District Asylum Seeker Support (B&DASS), which supports asylum seekers in hotels, has been supporting a Ukrainian family and a single Ukrainian woman who have entered the country in the past two weeks and been placed in hotels in Bromsgrove and Birmingham.

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Johannah Dyer, who volunteers for the group, said: “They are coming in via Ireland. They will fly in from say Hungary to Ireland and then cross on a normal passenger ferry. That’s not illegal. It’s only when they get here and need support that they get thrown into the asylum system.

“They’re very traumatised. When they first arrived two weeks ago, they were completely shell-shocked … They find themselves suddenly in an asylum seeker hotel with people from all around the world and they don’t know what’s happening at home. We know there will be others in this situation.”

Katie Reilly, another volunteer for the group, added: “They’ve fled the current situation, but without visas, so they have been plunged into the asylum process.

“We are supporting families from Afghanistan who have fled, arrived here and are declared asylum seekers. This will happen with Ukrainians in coming months – we must ensure safe routes for all.”

Ukrainians who have family in the UK and arrive without a visa are eligible for a six months of leave to remain, which then allows them to switch to a visa under the family scheme, the Home Office has said.

It is unclear whether those arriving without visas who do not have family in Britain are also eligible for this temporary status, and if not whether they have any other option but to enter the asylum system.

Leyla Williams, deputy director of West London Welcome, a refugee charity that has been supporting newly arriving Ukrainians, said she was “particularly concerned” about vulnerable homeless families who have arrived without visas and have no family to join here.

“It is unclear whether they should be applying for visas or claiming asylum. Grassroots charities like ours are ensuring they are safely housed and have legal advice, but it is vital the government provide urgent clarity to those without visas,” she said.

This map shows the extent of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Press Association Images)

“There should be no discrimination towards Ukrainians who are arriving here in whichever ways they can, who are all fleeing the same war and all require protection.”

Louise Calvey, of Refugee Action, said the charity was aware of a number of Ukrainians who had recently entered the UK without visas, and that it was concerned that people would be forced to enter an asylum system that is “not fit for purpose”, because of lengthy delays and poor housing.

About 25,000 asylum seekers in the UK are being held in hotels, with some having been there for more than a year. Tens of thousands have been awaiting a decision on their claim for more than 12 months, with hundreds waiting for more than five years.

Ms Calvey said they should be able to apply for leave to remain without having to request asylum, adding: “Doubtless some will end up [in the asylum system] due to chronic gaps in immigration advice.”

She added that requiring people to do security checks before entering the UK was “absolute nonsense” and that the government should be doing this once people have arrived in the country.

“By sticking to their visa requirements they’ve forced people through irregular routes rather than letting people in normally and checking on arrival. As per usual their policy has actually been totally counterproductive,” she added.

A government spokesperson said: “The Ukraine Family Scheme provides an immediate pathway for Ukrainians with family already settled in the UK to come to our country and we encourage all those who are eligible to apply. Last week we also opened a new sponsorship route, which allows Ukrainians with no family ties to the UK to be sponsored to come here.

“Ukrainians in Ireland wishing to come to the UK should apply to either of these schemes before seeking to travel. We continue to work closely with Ireland on the operation of the Common Travel Area, including data sharing and operational co-operation.”

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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