Homes for Ukraine scheme: why was 13-year-old girl sent back to Ukraine, and why was visa application refused?
MP Tulip Siddiq told ministers the girl had been travelling with her sister, 18, but her application was refused as she was without her parents
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In Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday (8 June) Labour MP Ms Siddiq raised the case of one of her constituents sponsoring two refugees.
The Hampstead and Kilburn MP told the House of Commons the 13-year-old girl has been sent back to her town, which is under siege, as she was not accompanied by a parent, this is despite the fact she was travelling with her 18-year-old sister.
Under the Homes for Ukraine programme, under-18s travelling alone are not permitted to be hosted.
However, the sister’s parents had sent a statement in Ukrainian and English giving their consent for the older sister to act on behalf of her younger sister.
What did Tulip Siddiq say in PMQs?
Tulip Siddiq explained the case of one of her constituents, Mark Falcon, after he sponsored two Ukrainian refugees through the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
Ms Saddiq said the two sisters were housed in temporary, dangerous accommodation in Montenegro for several weeks while the Home Office refused to process the application of the younger sister because she is travelling without her parents.
This is despite the fact that she had her 18-year-old sister with her.
Ms Siddiq told the Commons the older sister is now in London but the 13-year-old has been sent back to Ukraine.
She posed the question to the Prime Minister on why the Home Office is sending vulnerable children back to a war zone.
She asked: “Is this the right policy?”
The case in detail
The parents of the two sponsored sisters, aged 13 and 18, are in Ukraine with one serving in the military and the other is a doctor.
The elder sister received her permission to travel letter on 13 April but the younger sister heard nothing.
They were then stuck in a temporary hostel in Montenegro with the older sister unable to travel without her sibling.
Despite the sisters’ parents having sent a statement in Ukrainian and English giving their consent for the older sister to act on behalf of her younger sister, the application was not accepted by the Home Office.
The parents were able to find a way to secure a Guardianship certificate from their local authority for the elder sister to act as a legal guardian to her young sister while she was abroad.
However, despite having this guardianship document and their precarious situation in Montenegro, the visa for the younger sister has not yet been granted.
This resulted in the sister’s mother making the trip from the Ukraine to Montenegro to bring the younger sister back to Ukraine.
The older sister has arrived in the UK now but the younger sister has had to return to eastern Ukraine where her home and town has been under sustained Russian attack.
What has been said about the policy for unaccompanied minors?
Tulip Siddiq MP said many of her constituents who have volunteered to take in Ukrainian refugees have been “banging their heads against the wall for weeks in the face of a Home Office which is refusing to process applications for unaccompanied minors.”
She said: “It is frankly disgraceful that our Government’s policy appears to be to do nothing for Ukrainian minors travelling without their parents, even when they are accompanied by other adult relatives.
“In the case I raised with the Prime Minister, this callous policy has led to a 13-year-old being separated from her 18-year-old sister and forced to return to her war-torn hometown.”
She added: “Of course we recognise the dangers of child trafficking, but for legitimate cases like this the Home Office must have a more sophisticated approach.
“The Government is putting many children in grave danger and forcing them to return to areas that are under constant attack by Russia.”
Ms Saddiq said it is time for Boris Johnson to “show some leadership and sort it out”.
What has the Government said?
In response to Ms Siddiq, Boris Johnson replied: “Of course I understand her indignation about the case that she mentions and I know the home secretary will be looking into it.
“But I have to say that I do think the record of this country in processing so far I think well over 120,000 visas for Ukrainians is very creditable.”
He added: “I thank all the staff who have been involved in that effort.”
What is the Homes for Ukraine scheme?
Homes for Ukraine is a sponsorship scheme that allows people and organisations in the UK to offer Ukrainians fleeing the war a home.
It was launched on 14 March and it allows people living in the UK to sponsor a named Ukrainian national or family to come to live in the UK with them, providing they have suitable accommodation to offer
Previously only Ukrainians with family already settled in the UK could come.
Criticism started to mount against the scheme only a couple of weeks after it was first launched, as it emerged that just one in 10 applications to the Homes for Ukraine scheme had been granted.
Labour ministers sent a letter to home secretary Priti Patel and levelling up minister Michael Gove, urging them to address the “shameful” situation that is leaving refugees waiting “in limbo” before they can reach safety.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities run the Homes for Ukraine scheme and have been contacted for comment.