More than 8,500 Ukrainian refugees granted British visas

More than 150,000 people offer their homes to people fleeing the conflict

Relatives and friends attend a funeral ceremony in Lviv, Ukraine, for four Ukrainian military servicemen killed during an air strike in Yavoriv on March 15. AP Photo / Bernat Armangue

More than 8,000 visas have been issued in Britain under its family scheme for Ukrainians fleeing the war.

The Home Office said the figure topped 8,500 by 5pm on Friday.

More than 3.3 million Ukrainians have left their homes since the war with Russia began, with the majority entering Poland, Hungary and Romania.

Those hoping to enter the UK are able to apply for a visa under the Ukraine Family Scheme if they have relatives already living in the country.

A second scheme has been announced by the UK government, allowing for people to sponsor Ukrainian families to travel to Britain and live in their homes.

So far, more than 150,000 people have registered to take part in the "Homes for Ukraine" programme, helping residents to offer accommodation to Ukrainian refugees, despite concerns over how it will work in practice.

The scheme enables individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to volunteer accommodation for refugees for a minimum of six months.

It is open to Ukrainian nationals and their immediate family members and will allow them to live and work in the UK for up to three years, with access to healthcare, benefits and education.

Hosts, who will be given £350 ($457) a month, must submit the names of those they wish to sponsor, with charities working to identify those most in need.

The UK has faced criticism over its Ukraine refugee policy as many have been forced to jump through bureaucratic hoops and travel long distances within Europe to get visas.

From Friday, UK sponsors were able to nominate a named Ukrainian or family to stay with them, while the government is working with charities on the best way of matching people who do not know a Ukrainian.

Robina Qureshi, director of Positive Action in Housing, said the government scheme is a "smokescreen" for the problematic fact that Ukrainians still need to get a visa before coming to the UK - something the European Union does not require.

She expects just a "trickle" of refugees to arrive through the scheme because they have to find sponsors in the UK before they can apply and then travel.

"All they've got is expressions of interest, they have not identified individuals to match them up," she said.

"This is an illusion of people helping because they're distracting from the fact that they haven't lifted visa restrictions."

The government said refugees should not make their own way to the UK before they have received a permission letter or visa.

It said it is prioritising applications under the scheme and aims to make a decision “as quickly as possible”.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the scheme will be "inaccessible" to the most vulnerable.

“The Ukraine sponsorship scheme is a complex visa scheme that will inevitably be inaccessible to the most vulnerable refugees, such as unaccompanied children," he said.

“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.

“The Government must waive visas to allow any Ukrainian to reach safety in the UK as a refugee and then match them with Britons who have shown incredible generosity by wanting to welcome Ukrainians into their homes.

“At the same time, we urge the Government to rethink its cruel and harmful proposals in the Nationality and Borders Bill going through Parliament that will criminalise any Ukrainian seeking safety who arrives in the UK without a visa.

“The Government must not discriminate between those refugees it considers to be more deserving of our protection than others. By definition, all those fleeing the brutal conflict in Ukraine are in need of safety.”

Updated: March 19, 2022, 1:16 PM