In response to the new figures released from government today, stating 12,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in the UK under the Ukraine Family Scheme (10,800) and Ukraine Sponsorship scheme (1,200), Enver Solomon, CEO of Refugee Council, said:
“These numbers confirm we have a Government, yet again, choosing control over compassion when it comes to granting refugees protection and one who appear to be totally out of step, not only with that of the British public, but the rest of Europe who have opened their doors to welcome Ukrainian families in desperate need.
“It’s clear that the visa schemes which were supposedly designed to ensure the safety of Ukrainians fleeing war and bloodshed are unfit for purpose. Asking Ukrainian families, who are scared, exhausted, and traumatised to fill out a long, and complex visa application is unacceptable and totally out of touch with the terrifying situation they find themselves in.
“The British public stepped forward in their tens of thousands to welcome Ukrainians into their homes, yet we are hearing they have been left feeling angry and frustrated that their gesture of support has been lost into a web of bureaucracy and chaos. So many of whom are digging into their own pockets to support Ukrainian families with accommodation at borders, as they await news from the UK Government.
“The Government must urgently review the use of visas and waive them as an immediate short- term measure, as has been done by the EU, and then look to introduce a simplified emergency humanitarian visa process to ensure that we can welcome those families who desperately seek safety in the UK.”
The Refugee Council has been speaking to people in the UK trying to sponsor Ukrainians so that they can be safe in the UK. Below are testimonies from four people, based in London, Devon and Gloucestershire that you would be welcome to use.
Elsa, from London, is sponsoring a young woman aged 32 and her 4-year-old daughter from Odessa and currently in Western Ukraine. Elsa’s mother is sponsoring a family of four – mother with three young children (6, 4 and 7 months) from Kyiv, now in Krakow, Poland.
“Every other country has figured it out, get them here and then process. The argument from this government about security is just rubbish. I’ve had to find a stranger on Facebook, then share my passport and house information so that she can do her application, there’s no safeguarding there for me or for her so the argument about security is not a valid one. The lack of clarity is the most frustrating thing, the inability to speak to someone with answers, it’s just red tape after red tape.
It’s been 21 days since we filled in the application and I’ve been communicating with her in Western Ukraine. She’s safe but spent a lot of time in the basement when the sirens go off and she is super demoralised. Every day she checks her email 10 times but, so far, nothing. She’s a very intelligent woman, trained as a lawyer, works as a teacher and speaks perfect English. She’s quite level headed but every day she is losing hope that she and her child can safely reach us.
The family that my mother is trying to host are in an even worse situation. She’s alone with three young children as her husband is fighting on the front. Two of the kids have passports but the baby doesn’t, he has a photo and stamp in her passport and, after standing in line for 10 hours at the Ukrainian embassy in Krakov she was assured she could travel with that. But I spoke with the British embassy who said she definitely couldn’t travel and would need to go to the UK visa centre in Warsaw, that’s eight hours away with two children and a sick baby. You just feel so helpless that you can’t do anything. She doesn’t feel safe in a house with hundreds of others and her three kids by herself.
I’d say to the government, just remove all of these obstacles and get them over here.”
Lauren, an NHS nurse living in Devon, applied for a sponsorship visa on the day it opened March 18th. She has heard nothing since and the family she is trying to sponsor and welcome here remain in limbo in Poland.
“The stressful, emotional impact that this government is causing to people like me that are trying to help families fleeing war is horrendous. Why are the Government not helping me to help others? They are causing me and so many other potential hosts real distress.
I applied for visas on the day the scheme opened, March 18th. I have heard nothing further since and continue to be fobbed off by every single person that I try to speak to. My partner and I have been paying for the family we are trying to help to stay in a safe hotel in Poland, they could only stay in the train station for a short while. We thought it would be for a few days but 21 days later we are still doing this. The family are now are our friends, we care about them. It is a disgrace that the Government is relying on the British public’s compassionate nature rather than stepping up themselves.
I can’t just sit on my hands waiting. I’m planning a protest outside the Home Office and everyone that wants to join to voice their anger are welcome.”
Colin, from Gloucestershire – recently returned from assisting refugees gathering in Warsaw, Poland and is waiting for a Homes for Ukraine visa to be processed for a Ukrainian to join him and his wife in the UK
“I wanted to drive home with a family but it was clear that there was very little information about the new British visa scheme and, I thought, all you need is a person with a desk, laptop, poster and some leaflets in Ukrainian with bang up-to-date, accurate information explaining the visa system, what their rights are and offering help to fill in forms or access a website for more information. Then some of these tens of thousands of hosts here in this country who are desperate to help would be able to find matches but I think it’s going to be a slow, slow process.
I have heard the opinion expressed by lots of people, both here and over there [in Poland], who feel like the government have made an online visa application but if it’s not got the right information and support where needed there will only be a trickle of refugees arriving which is appalling when so many lives are in real danger and there is such a wave of goodwill and generosity here to help.
Really some of those people needing help could be on their way here to being met by their hosts within a couple of days if all the bits were joined together. My wife and I are hoping to welcome someone soon who has just filled in a visa application, and other friends in our town are helping with visas for women and children to be able to come. There is a circle of people here in the town waiting to help.”
Anya, originally from Ukraine has lived in North London with her family for over twenty years. Her sister-in-law and teenage niece joined them via the family visa scheme in March having fled their home from Kyiv suburbs shortly after the war broke out. Anya and friends in the area are helping to set up a community centre to help integrate Ukrainian families arriving with children into day-to-day life in North London with free classes for children and events for parents.
“I am Ukrainian so of course I want to help my family and as many others as possible reach safety. The processes here are so complicated. I have many friends trying to reach here with their children but it is expensive and difficult compared to the EU where visas are waived and often there is free accommodation provided by the government. We are lucky we have the means to get our sister-in-law and my niece over here to be with us but it is hard for many others that I know of.
I am part of a what’s app group of people that live locally who have applied to be hosts. I know there are delays and complaints in the process. No-one has had anybody arrive yet they are all hoping it is going to happen but they don’t know when. The delays are worrying. I know the proper checks of sponsors are crucial for the safety of arriving families but the UK government throwing resources into the process to speed it up and simplifying more steps would make a huge difference.”