Refugee charity calls UK's Homes for Ukraine scheme a ‘gimmick’

British government declines to say how many visas have been issued for families to be hosted in UK homes

Ukrainian refugees board a train en route to Warsaw at the railway station in Przemysl, near the Polish-Ukrainian border. AFP
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A charity supporting families fleeing Ukraine has criticised the UK government for failing to issue any visas to hundreds of people it is helping to place in the homes of volunteers.

The Homes for Ukraine scheme opened on March 14 to allow Ukrainians to stay in spare rooms and other accommodation offered by British families.

But a specialist charity that has helped refugees for two decades described the scheme as a “gimmick” that has left people turning to strangers on social media for help.

Positive Action in Housing said that it has been helping nearly 500 families and individuals, including unaccompanied children, to find a sponsor but none of them had secured visas.

The government said on March 14 there was no limit on the numbers coming in under the Homes for Ukraine scheme with potentially “tens of thousands” expected to come. The government website, last updated on Friday, said that “visas are already being issued” but it has yet to publish any data.

Robina Qureshi, director of the charity, called for visas to be waived after reporting that families were in danger in Ukraine while their applications were processed.

“The government made a fanfare of its Homes for Ukraine Community sponsorship programme,” she said.

“Yet, none of the families we are supporting have yet got a visa to travel under the Community Sponsorship scheme and are still waiting.

“Refugees are turning to wholly unsafe methods of getting here, meeting people in Facebook groups, on social media. And this government is responsible for giving people false hope and putting them further in the way of danger.”

The charity runs Room for Refugees that has sheltered more than 4,000 refugees with 16,00 registered hosts since 2002. More than 150,000 people have registered interest in hosting families.

The government has asked charities, faith groups, businesses and local authorities to help identify hosts that have a spare room that is available for at least six months. Under the scheme, Ukrainians will be able to work, receive benefits and use the state healthcare system.

The European policing agency Europol warned last week that people traffickers could exploit the mass migration from Ukraine. The UN said more than 3.8 million people had left Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion.

The government also has a Ukraine Family Scheme which is for people seeking to join relatives or extend their stay in the UK.

It said more than 37,000 applications had been made since March 4 and nearly 22,000 visas issued. Other European countries have taken many more. Germany’s interior ministry said last week that 239,000 refugees had arrived in the country.

Most people fleeing Ukraine have headed to Poland which has received 2.2 million people, according to the UN's refugee agency.

A British government spokesman said: “No visa is issued by the Home Office until checks have been completed on the Ukrainian applicant as well as on every adult in a sponsor's household.”

Updated: March 28, 2022, 10:52 AM