Process to house Ukrainian refugees in Northern Ireland may take only ‘hours’

Over 6,000 people in Northern Ireland have signed up for the UK Government’s Homes for Ukraine programme.

Ted Hennessey
Friday 18 March 2022 14:29
Volunteers help Ukrainian refugees loading their belongings onto a bus in Calais, France (PA)
Volunteers help Ukrainian refugees loading their belongings onto a bus in Calais, France (PA)

The process to house Ukrainian refugees in Northern Ireland may only take “hours” to complete, senior Stormont officials have said.

Over 6,000 people in Northern Ireland have signed up for the UK Government’s Homes for Ukraine programme. This allows individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to bring people escaping the war to safety – even if they have no ties to the UK.

It means a “substantial” number of people could be housed in the country, with estimates suggesting the figure could reach at least 9,000 if the UK takes 10% of those fleeing the country.

Senior officials from the Executive Office (TEO) said on Friday afternoon: “We’re working on the basis that this will be significantly larger and more complex than the Syrian refugee scheme where we welcomed and settled over 2,000 refugees on a staggered and planned basis.”

It's just me guessing off the top of my head, but I think the key message from the Home Office is this is not going to be an elongated process, it is a genuinely truncated process compared with foreign visa arrangements

TEO official

Anyone with a room or home available for at least six months can offer it to a Ukrainian individual or a family, although those offering to host will be vetted and Ukrainian applicants will undergo security checks.

It was said that schemes will take a personal and family-centred approach, ensuring refugees are treated with respect, allowing them equal access to public services and ensuring they can learn English to properly integrate.

Ukrainians will be asked for their details, including whether they have a criminal record, much like a visa application.

Asked how long the process will take, a TEO official told journalists: “We’re hearing suggestions that it certainly won’t be weeks, it will be more in days, possibly hours.

“It’s just me guessing off the top of my head, but I think the key message from the Home Office is this is not going to be an elongated process, it is a genuinely truncated process compared with foreign visa arrangements.”

The first – launching on Friday – will allow UK sponsors to nominate a named Ukrainian or family to stay with them in their home or in a separate property.

The Government is working with a number of charities and NGOs to work out the best way to match people who are not yet connected with Ukrainians. There is no limit to how many people can apply.

Another TEO official said: “Safeguarding is clearly of supreme importance and all of us and the Home Office will be doing a standard DBS check.

“We will be following up quickly with further checks, more advanced checks with visitors to ensure that their premises and the accommodation is suitable.

“Really importantly we recognise there will be bumps in the road down the line in some of these relationships and we want to be in a position to be able to support people to work through those, so the safeguarding aspect is is key.”

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