UK's 'unwelcoming' Ukraine refugee programme criticised by peer

Baroness Finlay says her bid to help a Ukrainian family is being frustrated by red tape

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff said the UK's Homes for Ukraine visa scheme is adding to refugees' trauma. PA
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A British peer who volunteered to help house Ukrainian refugees has criticised the unwelcoming system, which she says inflicts further trauma on those fleeing the war.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff and her husband, Professor Andrew Finlay, have been waiting three weeks for visas to be cleared via the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

The Homes for Ukraine programme, which the UK government sees as an important tool for increasing the number of Ukrainians who can apply for refugee visas, has been previously criticised as a chaotic system that started too slow.

Baroness Finlay did not wish to identify the refugee family but said they were known to her before the Russian war.

The father of the family is a doctor in Ukraine, she said, who had worked with her husband and remains in Kyiv. They have also submitted an application for him in the event he also leaves Ukraine due to injury or other reasons.

“He's decided to stay to serve his country and he's basically entrusted his wife and two children to us,” Baroness Finlay added.

“We've said we will do whatever is needed for however long to support them, and we know that it might be years.”

Baroness Finlay said they had to process each of the four refugees' applications individually, which has made her concerned they may not be approved together.

Despite repeated efforts in person at a visa information centre and over the phone, she said the only information she has received from in response has been four separate emails to say each applicant is “in the system” to be processed — which arrived on Thursday.

“The silence is awful … nobody can help me find out what's happened to these people's applications,” she said.

“I think there is a failure of recognition that this uncertainty is adding to the trauma that these people have already experienced.

“These aren't just pieces of paper, these are people … and these are people who have lost everything.

“We need to provide an environment where they know that they are welcome and they are safe — how can they feel welcome?

“The message from the system is that the country is not welcoming them. One cannot separate children from their parents.

The family will live in the home with Baroness Finlay and her husband, who have bought an extra bed and fridge to accommodate the whole family, clearing space in their kitchen cupboards so they can have space to cook their own meals.

They also installed another television and a radio, which can be tuned to Ukrainian radio stations so that the refugees can have a link to their home country.

A government representative said: “We continue to process visas for the Homes for Ukraine scheme as quickly as possible, but accept progress has not been quick enough.

“The Home Office has made changes to visa processing — the application form has been streamlined, Ukrainian passport holders can now apply online and do their biometrics checks once in the UK, and greater resource has gone into the system.”

Updated: April 10, 2022, 12:06 PM