UK sponsorship scheme for Ukrainian refugees branded ‘DIY assignment’

Labour warns refugees will still be required confront ‘excessive bureaucracy’ before coming to Britain

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Monday 14 March 2022 23:14 GMT
London Mayor Sadiq Khan says number of refugees UK has taken in so far is 'embarrassing'

The UK’s new sponsorship scheme for Ukrainian refugees has been branded a “DIY assignment scheme” by opposition MPs after it emerged that the government would play no role in matching refugees to hosts and that visas would still be required.

Announcing the scheme in the House of Commons on Monday, Levelling Up secretary Michael Gove said it would allow Ukrainians with no family links to come to the UK and benefit from three years of “unrestricted access” to benefits, employment and health care.

He confirmed media reports over the weekend that the sponsorship programme would offer those who provide a home for refugees a monthly payment of £350, adding there would be “no limit” to the number of Ukrainian’s who can benefit from the scheme.

But MPs expressed concern about the “excessive bureaucracy” the scheme entailed, given refugees are still required to apply for a visa. Those with passports will be able to do so through an online application process, but it is unclear how long the processing times will be.

There was also alarm at the process for matching hosts with refugees, which requires sponsors to identify a refugee individual or family and nominate them to stay with them in their home or in a separate property.

Shadow Levelling up minister Lisa Nandy said: “[Mr Gove] can’t seriously be asking Ukrainian families who are fleeing Vladimir Putin, who have left their homes with nothing, to get onto Instagram and advertise themselves in the hope that a British family might notice them.

“Is this genuinely the extent of this scheme? Surely there’s a role for the secretary of state in matching Ukrainian families to their sponsors, not just a DIY assignment scheme where all he does is take the credit.”

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

Refugees from Ukraine arrive at the Polish border
Refugees from Ukraine arrive at the Polish border (AFP via Getty Images)

It comes after charities told The Independent that the policy of hosts having to put forward names of refugees could leave Ukrainians who are vulnerable and do not have links to the UK or access to social media “excluded” from the programme.

Ms Nandy also accused the government of creating a “press release” as opposed to a “plan”, adding that Labour was “deeply concerned about the lack of urgency”.

“[Mr Gove]’s just told us they will still need a visa under the current application process. These are 50-page forms that have to be completed online, asking people who have fled with nothing to find an internet café to upload documents they don’t’ have – water bills, mortgage documents – to prove who they are,” she added.

“We are lagging way behind the generosity of other countries. We could simplify this process today, we could keep essential checks but drop the excessive bureaucracy.”

SNP MP Stuart McDonald echoed her concerns, saying: “We do very much regret that things are still not going fast enough, and we will still continue to argue that the best response from government is to stop asking Ukrainians to apply for visas.

“Why are people on this scheme still going to have to apply for a visa? Yes some may now be able to apply online, but an online process is not necessarily a fast process either.”

Mr Gove said Ukrainians with a valid passport would have their applications turned around “within 24 hours”, adding: “We are working as quickly as possible to ensure that individuals in need can be found the families and sponsors whom they need in order to get people into this country as soon as possible.”

Moments after the Levelling Up minister announced that the website enabling people to register their interest in housing Ukrainian refugees had been launched on Monday afternoon, the website crashed.

This map shows the extent of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
This map shows the extent of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (Press Association Images)

A number of MPs, including Tory MP Caroline Nokes, questioned the level of vetting that would take place before refugees are placed in people’s homes, citing concerns about potential abuse and exploitation that could take place.

Mr Gove said: “We don’t believe we need full DBS checks to make sure someone is an appropriate sponsor. It will often be the case that very light touch criminal checks will be sufficient and the local authority can be supported to make sure people are safe.”

When asked what would happen if a placement breaks down, Mr Gove said that in such cases the support of central and local government would be mobilised “to ensure people can move on”.

It comes after anti-trafficking charities warned on Monday that “red flags could be missed” in the vetting of potential hosts under the new programme, with some people in the UK likely to view the scheme as an “opportunity to turn a profit at the expense of vulnerable individuals”.

Mr Gove said sponsors would be required to commit to the scheme for a minimum of six months, but would be encouraged to keep up the offer for as long as they can. They must have leave to remain for at least the next six months to be allowed to sponsor a Ukrainian citizen.

Labour MP for Slough Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi said the government’s response to the Ukraine crisis was “quite frankly pathetic”, saying it revealed “the extent of the callousness within the government’s hostile environment policy”.

“The only reason we are having such a statement is because the government has been dragged kicking and screaming by the opposition, the media and the good British people who have said this debacle simply doesn’t represent us, we are much better than this,” he added.

Mr Gove retorted: “It is an uncapped scheme. I’ve had it up to here with people trying to suggest this country is not generous. The hostile environment was invented under a Labour home secretary, so could we chuck it when it comes to the partisan nonsense and focus on delivery.”

He added: “This scheme is not perfect, but what we are trying to do is make sure we can move as rapidly as possible.”

The minister said the government expects to welcome the first Ukrainians under the new route from next week.

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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