Homes for Ukraine: A noble effort, but a bureaucratic nightmare

By Clara Hickman

THE UK Homes for Ukraine Scheme – announced by the government last month – had the potential to be a great success.

Instead, it has been chaotic and been heavily criticized for its arduous process.

Head of Positive Action in Housing charity, Robina Qureshi recently said the scheme gave Ukrainian refugees “false hope” and insisted it was becoming “a gimmick.”

Even a government spokesman admitted to Redaction Report that the process has “not been quick enough”.

Ukrainian families, desperate to flee their beloved but now war torn home are advertising themselves on social media in hope of finding a temporary family in the UK.

Olga Mikhailovska, 32, from Lviv, has found a sponsor for herself and her three children. They have spoken via Whatsapp and seen photos of each other.

But Mikhailovska’s hosts have been waiting for a response from the Home Office for over two weeks. She said: “Every day I wait the more scared I get. I have been fearful for my life and children for quite a long time.

“I think I have found a genuine family but I am still scared.”

An estimated 200,000 people have signed up for the UK Homes for Ukraine scheme, eager to open their doors and welcome Ukrianian refugees into their homes.

However, thousands of sponsors are still waiting for their applications to proceed and for their sponsees to receive their visas.

Many have spoken of their frustration with some saying they had submitted their application when the scheme launched and are still waiting for a response.

Sophie Hayward from Cumbria has offered her three bed home to two young Ukrainian women.

Hayward explained she has been waiting since March 18th and has been calling the helpline number 17 days in a row.

“They have you waiting over an hour only to tell you they do not track individual applications and cannot help you,” she told Redaction Report.

“My refugees are in despair.”

Her Ukrainian family are waiting in a basement in Kharkiv.

“They are as safe as they can be in a warzone,” Hayward said.

“But what about tomorrow? Maybe our family will not be as lucky tomorrow and the missiles will not fly past this time.”

Eleanor Calidcott of South England submitted her application to sponsor a family two weeks ago.

“I heard nothing from the Home Office so I contacted my local MP and only just received an email stating they cannot meet the 10 day response target due to their caseload,” she said.

“This is potentially a matter of life and death, not some potholes needing to be filled. Some MPs have been so helpful in getting updates whilst others are frankly a disgrace.”

Many sponsors have been left baffled by the news only one or two members of the family they are sponsoring have received their visas. “It is madness,” said Sandy Millichap from Devon.

“I do not know how the government thinks it can issue visas to a mother and daughter but not their younger son.

“They are hardly going to leave without him are they? I am ashamed of our government.”

While many UK sponsors are still waiting in limbo, there are some Ukrainian families who have already arrived in the UK. But that doesn’t mean the transition to British life has been made any easier for them.

Grant Knott from Hampshire says he and his wife are happy to report that their Ukrainian family are settling in to their home well – but are running into paperwork issues.

He told Redaction Report: “We are applying for universal credit for a mum who does not speak any English so I have put my details as a contact.

“It asks if you have been outside of the UK in the last two years. Nothing so far about being a refugee. It also asks how much money you earn.

“Considering our family has taken out most of their life savings to rebuild their lives, I do not really think the government are in a position to ask that.”

The chaos comes after the scheme was further criticized for the lack of safeguards and the fear that Ukrainians could be exploited by sex traffickers.

Head of safeguarding of the Refugee Action charity, Louise Calvey, compared it to “Tinder for sex traffickers” and said the charity had already been alerted to people with “illegal motives.”

Iryna Zaitseva has found a lovely family in the UK but her offers were not all lovely. “I was overwhelmed by so many kind and genuine offers from British people who are ready to open their hearts to me,” she said. “They outweigh the scary and seedy offers from a few men by miles but unfortunately they do exist.”

Alina Juknaite and Tatiana Kovkovska are best friends who have vowed to travel to the UK together to make the journey to a strange country less scary.

“We were so excited to find a sponsor,” Kovkovska said. “We thought it was a single father and daughter but now we are unsure. He started asking us personal questions, whether we have boyfriends and if we are ready for relationships. We had to cancel our application.”

A government spokesperson 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.

“A UK Visas and Immigration helpline can provide information on eligibility and applications, and in cases of concern can escalate to teams who can look at the full case history and establish any issues.”

Clara Hickman is a freelance journalist. You can follow her on Instagram @claranmhickman

Featured Image: МВС України @ Wikimedia Commons

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