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Brits open doors to Ukrainians under Government sponsorship scheme


By Vincent Carroll-Battaglino

Yesterday (14 March), Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities Michael Gove unveiled the government’s sponsorship scheme allowing British householders to take in Ukrainian refugees fleeing their homes. Anyone will be able to offer a spare room or self-contained accommodation, as long as it is for a minimum of six months. Sponsors will “not be expected to cover the costs of food and living expenses” and will receive rent, but they will be eligible for an optional £350 per month from the government. There is no cap on the number of Ukrainians who could enter the UK via this scheme. 

Starting with the facilitation of immigration by named people already connected to the sponsor (in order to get it “up and running as soon as possible”), the programme will then progress to working with general individuals via relevant charities and NGOs. 

Within the first day, 89,000 Brits signed up to the scheme, though it is unlikely they all meet the current criteria of being in personal contact with a named Ukrainian individual or family. While the sympathy of the British public towards Ukraine’s plight is palpable, Labour has been quick to point out weaknesses in the scheme. Branding it as a “DIY asylum scheme”, Gove’s opposite number Lisa Nandy questioned the requirement for Ukrainians fleeing war to “advertise themselves” in the hopes of being named by British family. For Labour, the criticism of two weeks ago still applies: the visa application process is still too complicated and slow.  

A House of Commons petition to waive visa requirements reached 185,229 signatories and was debated by the Petitions Committee yesterday. This, alongside the government’s suggestion that full DBS checks should be carried out on hosts, has caused the Refugee Council to raise concerns too: “This programme falls short of enabling any Ukrainian, particularly the most vulnerable such as children who are alone, to seek safety in the UK and access the full support they urgently need…We are talking about very traumatised women and children whose experiences are unique, and the level of support needs to match that. It’s like asking people to be foster carers without any robust checks, training or having a social worker in place to support them.” 

Handling the issue of immigration and refugees is difficult for any government, not least during a crisis of this nature; letting in “too many” people and overlooking national security on one hand, or creating too much bureaucracy and unnecessary stress on those fleeing for their lives on the other, could become a thorny electoral issue. It’s an incredibly difficult situation to measure success, with the perception that the UK Government has been slower compared to others (the contrast with Ireland has been made on several occasions in Parliament), but ultimately, resettling itself can only be successful if the government’s efforts are supported by targeted and immediate measures for refugees to effectively access health, education, and employment.