Ukraine: Sponsor route ‘falls short’, say charities as Britons asked to ‘match’ with refugees on social media

‘This is a serious crisis – it’s not an online dating situation,’ says Labour

Michael Gove says he is considering personally taking in Ukrainian refugees

Refugee charities said the government’s new sponsorship route for Ukrainian refugees falls short of the response required, as fears grow that it will be too “slow and cumbersome” to meet the scale of the crisis.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said he hoped “tens of thousands” would be able to use the route set to be opened up this week, as he announced that local authority areas would get £10,000 per Ukrainian refugee sponsored in their area.

But opposition parties said the scheme – which will also provide £350 per month to Britons who provide homes to Ukrainian refugees – placed too much of the burden on the public and community groups.

The minister for levelling up said he hoped individuals and community groups would be able to “match” with refugees using social media, adding that charities would help in the process.

Labour cautioned that “too many questions remain unanswered” about the new scheme – and ridiculed its reliance on social media.

Shadow levelling up minister Lisa Nandy told LBC: “We’re asking people to ask to take to social media at a time they’re fleeing a war zone. This is a serious crisis – it’s not an online dating situation.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer claimed the government’s handling of refugees fleeing Ukraine was “far too slow, far too mean” and had been “an embarrassment for the United Kingdom”.

Questioning the lack of detail in the sponsorship plan, Sir Keir told Sky News: “What would comfort me more frankly is if I heard from Michael Gove that there were plans in place for the support that’s actually going to be needed on arrival.”

The Refugee Council said ministers were still putting too many “bureaucratic hurdles” in the way of those in danger. Chief executive Enver Solomon said the new scheme “falls short” of what is needed and would “inevitably be restricted to those who are known to people in the UK”.

Louise Calvey of Refugee Action said the government were “tinkering at the margins” and had not set out a “well resourced” programme that deals with the scale of the refugee crisis now enveloping Europe.

She said it was “really disappointing that we haven’t been able to collaborate on the development of this programme”, adding: “It worries me enormously … scaling up at this type of pace in a safe and sustainable fashion.”

Mr Gove told Sky News the public could register interest in housing a refugee when a new website launches on Monday, and said he expects the first refugees making use of the route to come to the UK “in a week’s time”.

Asked how sponsors and refugees were supposed the find each other, the minister told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday that the government believed they could try to form links on Instagram or Twitter.

“We know charities, and we are working with them, who are working to identify people on the ground, and helping to identify people here to create the matching process,” he added.

Sponsors will be expected to guarantee a minimum stay of six months – but will be encouraged to keep up the offer for as long as they can. Both those offering accommodation and Ukrainian applicants will undergo security checks.

Sponsored refugees will be granted 36 months leave to remain in the UK, and will be entitled to work, benefits and public services.

Councillor James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, said councils “will be central in helping families settle into their communities”. He called on Mr Gove’s department to work closely with local leaders so the scheme “can move at pace and scale”.

First minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said on Sunday that Scotland “stands ready” to take 3,000 Ukrainian refugees immediately as a “super sponsor”.

But Ms Sturgeon said she was worried the UK sponsorship scheme would be too “slow and cumbersome”, and may not be sustainable for the length of time that people may need to stay in the UK.

A Ukrainian refugee center in Korczowa, Poland

Mr Gove revealed he was personally interested in housing someone from Ukraine, saying he was “exploring” how to personally support those fleeing the Russian forces.

Asked on BBC’s Sunday Morning programme if he would take someone in, he said: “I’m exploring what I can do, I know that there are others who have. Without going into my personal circumstances, there are a couple of things I need to sort out – but yes.”

Mr Gove said on Sunday that “more than 3,000 visas” have now been issued to those fleeing the war with family in the UK, as the government came in for more criticism over its failure to follow the EU approach and waive visa requirements.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said it was time for Boris Johnson to sack home secretary Priti Patel over her department’s handling of the Ukrainian refugee crisis.

“Her inaction does not befit the British people, with all our compassion and generosity,” he told his party’s spring conference. “It couldn’t be clearer that Priti Patel is not up to the job. The buck stops with the prime minister. So Boris Johnson must sack her, now.”

Ireland’s premier Micheal Martin said his country’s humanitarian response trumps security checks on arriving Ukrainians. “Our primary impulse is to assist those fleeing war,” he told the BBC.

The Taoiseach has said the state has so far accepted 5,500 people fleeing the Russian invasion, a response to what he termed “the worst displacement of people since World War Two”.

The Independent is also raising money for the people of Ukraine – if you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

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.

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