The UK’s Homes for Ukraine refugee scheme has officially opened.
More than 120,000 Brits have already registered their interest to house refugees fleeing Ukraine as Russia continues its invasion.
Those requests came in the first few days of the UK government’s scheme being launched, as many get ready to open their homes to Ukrainians.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called it the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War Two and it is expected that the number could grow to four million people.
So, how can you get involved in rehoming Ukrainian refugees - and how will Homes for Ukraine work?
Here’s what you need to know.
How will Homes for Ukraine scheme work?
Michael Gove outlined the full details of the Homes for Ukraine scheme in the House of Commons.
The visa route will allow Ukrainian nationals and residents without family links to the UK to relocate here, with the first refugees set to arrive next week.
This is what Mr Gove has revealed about the new scheme:
- People resident in the UK can sponsor Ukrainian refugees through the new visa route regardless of their nationality or immigration status (so long as they have at least six months leave to remain in the UK)
- Initially, only those with “known connections” to the Ukrainian applicants can be sponsors, Mr Gove said, as this would get the scheme going “as soon as possible”. However, Homes for Ukraine will “rapidly expand in a phased way” through community groups, like churches, as well as charities
- Sponsors have to commit to housing refugees for at least of six months, but will be encouraged to keep accommodating them for as long as they can
- Those offering accommodation will have to go through a vetting process that aims to ensure the scheme is not being exploited by criminals. Ukrainian refugees will also have to undergo security checks
- Ukrainians who are sponsored through the new humanitarian route will be granted three years’ leave to remain in the UK, and will have “full and unrestricted access” to state benefits, NHS healthcare, employment and other support
- Sponsors putting up Ukrainian refugees will receive a ‘thank you’ tax-free payment of £350 per month for each family they look after.
- This money will not affect benefit entitlements or the council tax status of the sponsor
- Local authorities will be entitled to financial support of more than £10,000 per Ukrainian refugee, with ‘additional payments’ available to support school-age Ukrainians accommodation in the education system
- The scheme will be uncapped - meaning the UK Government is not limiting the number of refugees who can come to the UK. Michael Gove said “tens of thousands” of Ukrainians could come into the country
If you wish to sponsor and host Ukrainian refugees, you can visit this Government website: https://homesforukraine.campaign.gov.uk
Michael Gove said the UK had a “long and proud history” of supporting the most vulnerable “in their darkest hours”.
“The British people have already opened their hearts in so many ways, I’m hopeful that many will also be ready to open their homes and to help those fleeing persecution find peace, healing and the prospect of a brighter future,” he added.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said Scotland “stands ready” to take 3,000 refugees immediately, but also criticised the UK Government’s refusal to waive visa requirements entirely.
The SNP’s Westminster home affairs spokesperson Stuart McDonald also voiced criticism over the speed of the Homes for Ukraine rollout.
“We do very much regret that it is only phase one today, things are still not going fast enough,” he said.
Welsh leader Mark Drakeford said Wales could take 1,000 people.
As of Sunday, Home Office figures showed the number of Ukrainian visas approved through the family route was 4,000, with 17,100 applications submitted and 10,600 appointments made at visa processing sites.
What has been the reaction to the new scheme?
Labour’s shadow Levelling Up secretary Lisa Nandy said it was unclear 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.
Enver Solomon, CEO of charity the Refugee Council, echoed Ms Nandy, and called for visa requirements to be waived.
“A humanitarian crisis requires a speedy and compassionate response, not one that puts bureaucratic hurdles ahead of the immediate needs of people whose lives have been ripped apart,” he said.
“We are also worried about ensuring the safety and wellbeing for Ukrainians who have fled bloodshed, and the level of support available for their sponsors. We are talking about very traumatised women and children whose experiences are unique, and the level of support needs to match that.
“It’s like asking people to be foster carers without any robust checks, training or having a social worker in place to support them.”
A government spokesperson said: “The routes we have put in place follow extensive engagement with Ukrainian partners.
“This is a rapidly moving and complex picture and as the situation develops we will continue to keep our support under constant review.”
What is the new family route visa process?
It comes after Home Secretary Priti Patel was urged to do more to make it easier for Ukrainians coming to the UK through the existing family route.
There has been criticism from charities, as well as French President Emmanuel Macron, that UK-bound refugees have had to go out of their way to apply for visas at sites in Brussels and Paris.
Last week, Ms Patel announced that from Tuesday (15 March) people will be able to apply online for a visa and will no longer have to go to a processing centre to give their biometrics.
Once their application has been considered and checks completed, they will receive notification that they are eligible for the scheme and can come to the UK.
“In short, Ukrainians with passports will be able to get permission to come here fully online from wherever they are and will be able to give their biometrics once in Britain,” the Home Secretary said.
“This will mean that visa application centres across Europe can focus their efforts on helping Ukrainians without passports.”
The British Red Cross said visa requirements should be waived for Ukrainian refugees.
The European Union has allowed visa-free travel, but Boris Johnson has said the paperwork was necessary as it helped to ensure Russian agents posing as refugees could not get into the country.
Support people fleeing the devastating conflict in Ukraine: donate to the DEC appeal
Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) charities and their local partners are in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries providing food, water, shelter and medical assistance. Learn more and donate what you can today
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