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Government offers £350 to house Ukrainian refugees

Following widespread criticism of the UK Government’s response to refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, households will be offered £350 a month to house refugees.

Under the new “Homes for Ukraine” scheme, the Government calls on people to offer a spare room or an empty property to a refugee for a period of at least six months.

In what the UN has called the “fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War Two”, official estimates say 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine because of Russia’s invasion.

The Refugee Council said it was worried about the level of support for people traumatised by the war and Labour said there are many unanswered questions, accusing the Government of “dragging its feet.”

Homes for Ukraine:

On Monday, the Government is expected to announce the new community visa scheme that follows widespread criticism from MPs on the speed and scale of the UK Government’s response.

Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove told Sky News that 3,000 Ukrainians fleeing the war have now been granted visas. However, more than 20,000 Ukrainians have begun applications and the Prime Minister suggested the UK could take in 200,000 refugees.

“The crisis in Ukraine has sent shock waves across the world”

Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Michael Gove

Announcing the new scheme, Mr Gove urged people to join the “national effort” and give a safe home to those in need.

Individuals acting as sponsors will be able to nominate a named Ukrainian individual or family to stay with them rent-free in their home, or in a separate property, for six months. Sponsors won’t be required to know them in advance – they might find them, for example, through posts on social media. There will be no limit on the number of refugees who can come to the UK through this route, and they will be given three years leave to remain, with the right to work and access public services.

Applications would be made online, with both sponsors being vetted and refugees having to go through security checks. The sponsor would get a “thank you” payment of £350 a month.

A website for people to express an interest in offering accommodation will launch on Monday.

In a later phase, organisations such as charities and churches will be able to do the same, though there is no start date for this yet.

Announcing the plan, Mr Gove said: “The crisis in Ukraine has sent shock waves across the world as hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been forced to flee their homes, leaving everything they know and love behind.

“The UK stands behind Ukraine in their darkest hour and the British public understand the need to get as many people to safety as quickly as we can.”

Michael Gove 13.3.22
Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove tells Sunday Morning that he is looking into what he can do personally. Image: Sunday Morning.

More to be done:

On the ongoing criticism of the speed and scale of the Home Office response to refugee crisis, Mr Gove told Sunday Morning that the UK is the largest contributor of bilateral support to frontline states in Eastern Europe. However, he did admit that there is more to be done.

The Refugee Council said the Government scheme fell short of what was needed and that it was concerned that people from Ukraine were facing unnecessary “bureaucratic hurdles.”

Chief Executive, Enver Solomon said: “We are concerned that people from Ukraine are still not being recognised as refugees and being asked to apply for visas when they just need to be guaranteed protection.”

The support available to sponsors is also under scrutiny.

“We are talking about very traumatised women and children whose experiences are unique, and the level of support needs to match that,” he said.

“It’s like asking people to be foster carers without any robust checks, training or having a social worker in place to support them.”

Shadow Levelling Up Secretary, Lisa Nandy raised concerns about exactly what support would be offered to vulnerable children and older people, whether provision would made for unaccompanied children and what help would go to local government, sponsoring organisations and housing providers.

There are calls by the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales who have written to the UK Government to argue that they should be allowed to go further and become “super sponsors” to offer temporary accommodation to refugees and enable them to come to the UK faster.

They said becoming “super sponsors” would allow the two nations to take refugees more quickly and give them access to safeguarding and services while a longer-term sponsor is found.

The European Union is allowing Ukrainians three-year residency without a visa, but the UK says controls on entry are essential for security.

The Irish Taoiseach told Sunday Morning that his government was in constant contact with their equivalents in the UK Government. But suggested that his country is prioritising the humanitarian crisis over security concerns that have been cited as the cause of delays by the Home Office.

Taoiseach 13.3.22
Irish Taoiseach, Micheal Martin tells Sunday Morning that his government will continue to provide humanitarian assistance. Image: Sunday Morning

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