Thousands of refugees expected in UK next week under Homes for Ukraine scheme | Refugees

Thousands of Ukrainians are expected to arrive in the UK next week following criticism of the slow progress of government programmes.

Home Secretary Kevin Foster told MPs that 5,500 visas had been granted under Ukraine’s family program and 20,000 applications had been submitted.

Refugees Minister Richard Harrington told a parliamentary committee that sponsors who have identified someone wanting to come to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme could apply from March 18.

The two ministers appeared before the Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday after concerns in Parliament over the slow progress of refugee aid programs in the UK. UNHCR expects up to 4 million people to be forced to flee Ukraine.

Lord Harrington, who was parachuted into government by Boris Johnson to run the sponsorship scheme, said the priority was to get people into the UK, speed up the visa application process and match sponsors British with Ukrainian families.

Asked if councils would check accommodation under the scheme before Ukrainians are accommodated, Harrington told the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee: ‘It may not be possible .

“I mean, I’m talking next week… I expect thousands of people to come but it will be their responsibility and, especially where there is a possibility of vulnerability with children, that kind of thing, that would be a priority.

“But if we started saying we’re going to preview it, that’s just not possible.”

He added that he did not expect the £350 monthly payment for hosts under the Homes for Ukraine scheme to breach any insurance or mortgage terms.

Asked by the committee if he could guarantee that the Ukrainian refugees would not be accommodated in hotels, Harrington replied: “That is not our intention. But if all else fails, it’s our job to make sure they have a roof over their heads and are properly fed.

Local authorities will receive £10,500 for each refugee for the first year to support education, English language learning, protection and social care, while there will be additional supplements for each child placed in a school.

The government is not primarily asking councils to help with housing, as it intends to build on the more than 120,000 people who have expressed an interest in the scheme so far.

Labor MP Clive Betts asked: “Isn’t there a real potential problem here? What if there is a concentration of refugees coming into certain areas, where there may already be enormous pressure on things like children’s mental health, school places? »

Harrington replied, “I’m not thinking about that yet…that’s a very valid point and please don’t think I’m misleading you, but right now we just need to get these people in.”

Every Ukrainian coming to the UK will still need to complete a visa, ministers said, but the form has been simplified and reduced from 49 pages to 30.

Refugees entering EU countries do not have to complete a visa before arrival.

Tory MP Adam Holloway has accused the government of making it “extraordinarily difficult” for Ukrainian women and children to reach the UK, calling the situation “utterly outlandish”.

“We are making it incredibly difficult for women and children to come here, with enormous reputational damage to a government [that] is doing very well overall,” he said.

MPs were told that informal networks and charities were identifying people and helping to connect them with sponsors.

Tory MP Tim Loughton called for regular updates for the public on progress, ‘otherwise people will be very frustrated, as they have been in some of the pandemic volunteering schemes signed up, and then they won’t have never been called to do anything”.

Harrington said: “I’m doing my best to make sure it doesn’t happen…I want it to work. I believe that when this works, the real conduit for this will be these NGOs on the ground, and they will become experts in this area.

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