Canada's Syria refugee programme a model for UK's sponsorship offer to Ukrainians

Registration opens for British people to host new arrivals in their homes

A family from Ukraine waits to speak to UK Home Office officials in Lille, France. Getty
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British people can register from Monday to sponsor Ukrainian refugees to come to the UK, in an initiative that has yet to satisfy critics who say people fleeing the war with Russia should be treated more generously.

The local sponsorship programme is similar to one used by Canada to resettle about 9,000 people who fled the war in Syria.

Starting on Friday, it will match escaping Ukrainians with people, charities and businesses who come forward to offer sanctuary, with households in Britain set to receive £350 ($460) a week if they provide a place to stay.

Any volunteer must have a named Ukrainian to sponsor, something ministers say could be arranged by church groups, charities or social media. They will be expected to put someone up for at least six months, and both the host and refugee will be subject to security checks.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said it was “important that anyone that becomes a host… can fulfil the obligations of a host, that they can spend time with these families and help”. He suggested he would not have time himself.

About 2.7 million people have fled Ukraine since Russian troops invaded on February 24, with many more expected to follow as fighting and artillery shelling continues.

Local authorities in Britain will receive up to £10,000 ($13,040) per refugee in an initiative that Housing Secretary Michael Gove said could bring tens of thousands of people to the UK.

It mirrors the Canadian programme in which 8,954 refugees were privately sponsored to relocate from Syria, at the height of the migration flow from the country in 2015 and 2016.

In that initiative, sponsors typically raised about 27,000 Canadian dollars ($21,000) to bring over a family of four and committed to help them to settle, according to Amnesty International, which praised the project. Another 14,994 refugees received government funding to come to Canada.

Britain’s government is now facing calls to expand what is the only fast-track visa route for Ukrainians who do not have links to the UK.

Ministers were criticised after their initial offer applied only to Ukrainians with relatives in the UK, while the EU has offered one-year residency to all Ukrainians fleeing the war.

Politicians from both the ruling Conservatives and opposition Labour Party have described the UK’s visa offer as too narrow and the process of obtaining a visa as too bureaucratic.

“We need the visa system to be far simpler. It is far too complicated for those from Ukraine to come to London and our country,” said London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

“Those fleeing war should not have to jump through hoops, including lengthy visa applications, in order to secure safe passage.”

The Home Office responded to criticism by loosening the application process so that Ukrainians can make an initial application online and provide biometric details once they arrive in Britain.

It came after reports of visa-processing centres in Poland running out of appointments and leaving people queuing in cold weather to submit an application.

About 3,000 people have been granted visas under the extended family programme while Ukrainians already in the UK on a different visa can seek to switch their immigration status.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said she had received assurances that necessary security checks would not be compromised by delaying the collection of biometric data.

It followed claims that ministers had raised concerns with EU member Ireland, with which Britain shares a free travel area, about the lack of security around arriving Ukrainians.

Updated: March 14, 2022, 11:57 AM