The Homes for Ukrainians Scheme does not meet the needs of refugees

Scenes of chaos, disinformation, unhelpfulness, layers of bureaucracy; these are some of my comments after seeing what some of the Ukrainian refuges had to go through while trying to make an appointment with the British Consulate in Warsaw. Some people, who fled the war, travelled in freezing conditions for days, had to make a 12 hour round trip to meet a Home Office official. Unacceptable? Most definitely.

I agree that Britain has a long standing tradition of welcoming refugees. However before we start congratulating the Home Office on their efforts to welcome our Ukrainian friends, it is worth remembering that Poland has already provided home and shelter for 1,916,000 refugees from Ukraine (figures from 17th March) whilst other neighbouring countries have taken 283,000 (Hungary), 229,000 (Slovakia), 491,000. Interestingly, Ireland has taken 6,600 whereas UK so far only 3,000, as of 14th March.

So what awaits Ukrainian refugees, who might want to move to a safe country or, to be more precise, are desperate to settle secure? On Monday, 14th March, the government launched the Home for Ukrainians Scheme. The scheme itself went live on Friday, 18th March.

The setup is quite “interesting”. Although around 44,000 have already signed up to the scheme, the government, in my view, made a wrong decision in terms of how the process works. Essentially, Ukrainian applicants must have named people in the UK willing to sponsor them. Only in the last few days, I had a number of phone calls from residents of Welwyn Garden City, who are really keen to support our Ukrainian friends, however without having any information about the country, culture or any connections with Ukraine, each individual will have to heavily rely on some of the Ukrainians already living in the UK. We are quite lucky in Welwyn Hatfield as we have worked a lot in recent weeks with members of the Ukrainian community, who might be able to “match” individuals in Ukraine, with people in the UK, who are happy to move to Britain.

I might be cynical, however the British government is urging the public to come forward to help as we are in the middle of a global humanitarian crisis. In my view, this clearly demonstrates that the government doesn’t want to provide the adequate infrastructure to support the scheme and it relies on the good will of British people. I wonder whether this is also because of Home Office recent stance and reputation on immigration. I’ve seen first-hand, in my day job, how hard it was for Afghan families to navigate the complexity of the Home Offices internal procedures. An inhumane and impossible task, to say the least.

I agree that in order to support Ukrainian refugees, we need a national effort to respond to the biggest humanitarian crisis in Europe since the war in former Yugoslavia, however the government feels to me to be detached from parts of the process whilst local charities, faith groups, universities and businesses will have to step in to enable the scheme to be a success.

Most readers might already know that each host family will receive a payment of £350 for up to 12 months. Anyone willing to take someone in, will have to do for at least 6 months. The scheme clearly (or not) states that Local Authorities will receive significant funding to support Ukrainian refugees. When and how this funding will be distributed?

The government also says that there are plenty of organisation, which will be happy to provide additional support with e.g. finding schools for Ukrainian children, registering families with GP’s or even helping people to open bank accounts.

I am aware that the government, whoever is in charge, has always a difficult task on managing complex subjects such as humanitarian crisis or immigration. However, it seems to me that the Home Office, yet again, has failed to do its homework. I wonder whether anyone from the Ukrainian community has been consulted on efficient ways in which this scheme should work in practice. I wonder whether any of the Ministers thought about speaking to any of the Ukrainian refugees about their fears as well as their future plans and aspirations. Any such scheme must relate to people and needs to take into the consideration human factors; providing shelter whilst protecting people’s integrity and dignity. Many Ukrainians I spoke with are proud and they are very keen not to be a burden on the British taxpayer.

And what about us? As I said many times before, we should try to use every opportunity to make a difference, bring peace, and even in the most challenging situations, remain committed to building bridges and not walls. In the last few weeks, I’ve realised again that we must continue being a force for good! We can’t give in even when we feel broken and completely overwhelmed. Naive? Maybe. However, do we have any other choice?

* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and councillor for Handside ward, Welwyn Hatfield.

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6 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 20th Mar '22 - 9:48am

    I have to admire the Scottish governments approach to supporting Ukrainian refugees by becoming the first organisation in the UK to be approved as a sponsor. Basically, any Ukrainian can request to be dealt with under this scheme and will then be moved immediately to temporary accommodation in Scotland until matched to a host family. I suppose some may be cynical of any political motive that may lie behind the SNP’s actions, but their actions in themselves are certainly praiseworthy.

  • 1. My distinct impression is that really the government does not want any refugees and is delaying and putting as many obstacles in the way as it can.
    2. Weather calm this week, how many boats will come over the Channel?
    3. Does anyone else share my shame that we have allowed the Russians to do all this, letting ourselves be bullied and bullied again. Are we going to let the same happen to NATO territory under the nuclear threat of Russia?

  • The Scottish government has responded well in facilitating the matching of families with host families. The Irish republic have set up a refugee assistance operation at Dublin airport offering Ukrainians social security numbers, medical cards, housing and other supports.
    The urgency of refuge support has been demonstrated with the claim by Mariupol Town Council that thousands of its citizens have been forcibly taken from there to Russia. The Russian government has called for the surrender of Mariupol to its forces and closed off any humantarian corridors or relief.
    Last month the US told the United Nations it had credible information showing that Moscow is compiling lists of Ukrainians “to be killed or sent to camps following a military occupation”. This is what Russia means by “denazification” – the elimination of politicians, civil servants, teachers, intellectuals and the like who would cause trouble.

    The letter, written by Bathsheba Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations warns about targeted human rights abuses: “These acts, which in past Russian operations have included targeted killings, kidnappings/forced disappearances, unjust detentions and the use of torture, would likely target those who oppose Russian actions.”
    Crocker alleges Russian military targets would include Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, and “vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons.” Many would be killed or sent to camps, or exiled.

    These are gross breaches of the 4th Geneva convention. Ukraine also needs to assiduously observe the convention and not endanger Russian prisoners of war by parading them on public TV.

  • Whilst I agree that the UK government is making things difficult, there are ways around this. A local deaf group has via social media gained lots of new friends in Ukraine, so names etc. have been exchanged. Okay, the Ukrainians still need to find their way out of Ukraine, but once in a safe country they have names and contact details of (deaf) people who have signed up to the scheme. Obviously, there is a risk that more people get out of Ukraine than the group has rooms for, but the expectation is that networking beyond the group will cover that eventuality. So I suggest, yes berate the governments half-hearted action, but get networking so that you can keep the pressure on the government. With all the vans of aid going to the Ukraine border, it shouldn’t be too difficult for those same (now empty) vans to return with a few Ukrainian passengers…

  • No-one should feel proud of the UK Home Office demonstrating its incompetence so publicly, but I’m less sure of other criticism of the government. If Poland has 2 million refugees, we ought to take perhaps a few hundred thousand. And the government should house them where, exactly? They have listened to the Brexit Britain sentiment, and would not want to quickly build say 100,000 new homes on a green field site, even if that were remotely possible, and it obviously isn’t. It seems quite fair for them to turn to the Great British public and say, “if you think you are so welcoming, put your money where your mouth is”, or in this case, “put your spare room where your mouth is, and we’ll pay you to do it.”
    I also wonder where the idea that “Britain has a long standing tradition of welcoming refugees” comes from. Really? When did that become a “tradition”? Having talked to many of the Leave voters during various campaigns for remaining in the EU, if it ever was a tradition it’s one from which many have moved on.

  • Can we be the only UK family desperate to help with accomodation, but unable go commit for 6 months, for whatever reason? My wife and I would happily forgo the monthly payment. We are both fully DBS and Security Checked. As a Cricket Coach, I am also certified to coach children and young adults My wjfe,an Interpreter, has highest level of Police Security Clearance

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