9 unanswered questions in government plan for Ukrainian refugees as 100,000 Britons register

More than 100,000 Britons have expressed an interest in hosting a Ukrainian refugee in the first 24 hours of a new scheme.

Boris Johnson said the support for Homes For Ukraine was “fantastic”, thanking “everyone across the country who stepped up”.

But warm hearts don’t necessarily mean that 100,000 Ukrainians will move into the spare rooms of the British, or that will happen imminently.

Although many details are now public, there are still unanswered questions and paperwork issues surrounding the program – in which refugees still need a visa.

Labor has accused Tory ministers of setting up a “do-it-yourself” scheme because the government will not match refugees with hosts.

And some more jaded MPs suggest it’s a convenient distraction from the slow progress of Ukraine’s separate family regime.







Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees crossing the Polish border at Medyka
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Picture:

Steve Reigate)








They flee destruction like this in the village of Zelenyi Hai, Ukraine, pictured today
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Picture:

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)


Ministers promised more detailed advice within days and a “full support package” for sponsors, who will receive £350 a month.

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said: “Over 100,000 people have signed up and said they will offer safe haven to Ukrainians in the UK. This is something we should all be proud of.

“This is in direct contrast to the Conservative government leaving people shivering at the border rather than helping find a way to safety.”

Here are some of the main unanswered questions raised about the Homes for Ukraine program.

How quickly will visas be issued?

Unlike the EU visa-free regime, Ukrainians must apply for a UK visa to live, work and claim benefits for up to three years.

On Tuesday, this process was made easier – applicants with a Ukrainian passport no longer have to go to a visa center in person.

But shadow upgrade secretary Lisa Nandy warned that there were still “50-page forms to fill out online, asking people who fled with nothing to find an internet cafe to upload documents that they don’t have – water bills and mortgage documents – to prove who they are”.

And those who were unable to obtain their passport will still have to go to a visa center in person.

As of 4 p.m. Monday, only 4,600 visas had been granted under Ukraine’s separate family regime.

Visa applications for the new regime will open on Friday. Ms Nandy warned: ‘The Home Office has been incredibly slow.

Leveling Secretary Michael Gove claimed Ukrainians with passports can turn around an application “within 24 hours”. He added: “A PDF will be sent directly to them and then they can fly to this country for a warm welcome.”







Michael Gove says Ukrainians with passports can have an application returned ‘within 24 hours’
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Picture:

AFP via Getty Images)


When will hosts be matched with strangers?

Visa applications open this Friday, but only for “phase one” – Ukrainians who know who will sponsor them by name, and vice versa.

People or organizations who want to host a Ukrainian, but do not know who it is, can register now but do not have a date to press the Go button.

Michael Gove insisted he was working “this week” with charities and NGOs to “accelerate phase two as quickly as possible”.

But despite pressure from MPs, he has not yet given a date for this important second phase.

And he has been criticized for leaving the “matching” to be done by charities, church groups and universities, not the government.







Rescuers work next to a building damaged by an airstrike, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in central Kharkiv yesterday
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Picture:

REUTERS)


Is the payment of £350 sufficient for refugees and their hosts?

Hosts will receive a ‘thank you’ payment of £350 per month, and this will last for up to 12 months of hosting a refugee.

But this is a fixed amount regardless of the number of refugees they host and is not designed to cover the living expenses of refugees.

It is also not designed to cover the cost of food, although “nothing prevents sponsors from donating meals if they wish”.

It seems obvious that most hosts will be charitable to refugees, but this could exclude low-income sponsors from the program.

Refugees can apply for Universal Credit, but will need to take an advance from their own future benefits to be paid faster than five weeks.

What happens after 6 months?

There is an obvious problem with the program – hosts must provide accommodation for at least six months, but visas last for three years.

Of course, the ambition will be for Ukrainian families to find their bearings, find work and settle in their homes, but life is not always easy.

The government is very vague on how long people can stay, saying: “Sponsors should provide accommodation for as long as they can, but we have a minimum wait of 6 months.”

Property lawyer Christian Fox, of Becket Chambers, claimed hosts could “inadvertently create a tenancy” in law through the scheme.

He said: “It is far better for both parties to understand how they can extend or terminate the agreement now, rather than risk acrimony or legal action later.” But the government is clear: “You must not ask for rent”.

What happens if the relationship breaks down?

Tens of thousands of Britons opening their hearts and homes to families fleeing war is an act of warmth and love.

But day-to-day issues can get in the way at times, and the government remains vague about what will happen if the relationship breaks down.

Asked what happens if a host and a refugee family want to separate in less than six months, No10 said councils should take the pressure.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “This is when we expect the local authority to intervene.

“Obviously they themselves will receive an additional £10,500 per person.”






The Homes for Ukraine website

Will there be enough mental health support?

More than 3 million people have now fled the war, many of whom suffer from post-traumatic stress due to the brutality.

Councils will receive £10,500 per refugee to ensure school places, healthcare, English lessons and other services are there.

Labor’s Lisa Nandy wondered if that would be enough, saying: ‘A council leader told me today that his town, which traditionally plays a major role in welcoming refugees, has only nine places available in secondary schools.

No10 admitted that Ukrainians with mental health needs will not have a dedicated service, but will access the NHS like anyone else.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘I wouldn’t call it joining waiting lists…but they will certainly be able to access mental health support through the NHS, as the UK public.’

Will “very light” controls ensure the safety of hosts and refugees?

Families on the run will be subject to “standard security checks” by the Home Office, such as a criminal record check.

Sponsors will also be checked, but the nature of this is more vague.

The government says hosts “are also subject to security checks and may also be subject to backup checks.”

But Michael Gove said it would not be full DBS checks used on teachers and that ‘very light criminal checks will often suffice’.

This could raise concerns for some refugees in a tiny minority of cases about whether their host, or someone who lives with their host, is suitable to live with.

Even if concerns are identified, families who have fled a bloody war may feel they have little choice.

What happens if you have to move or find yourself homeless?

Conservative MP Caroline Nokes asked if people moving in the next six months will still be able to participate.

Michael Gove, who moved on after a divorce, said “we will do everything we can to facilitate their support”, but did not specify what.

There is also the question of what happens if a resident unexpectedly falls on hard times and ends up homeless.

No10’s response to this was not to sign up for the program in the first place. The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘As a first step, we would ask anyone considering sponsoring to consider their own circumstances.’

Someone at risk of homelessness “might not be an appropriate person to go down that path,” he suggested.

What happens to the most vulnerable?

Critics have raised the fact that ultimately it is still a visa regime, meaning those who cannot access information may fall through the cracks.

SNP MP Stuart C McDonald raised the plight of ‘orphans, elderly people and others who will never know about the scheme, no matter how they apply for it’.

Michael Gove, who was adopted as a baby, insisted that “we are working with those on the ground to make sure we can have the right solution for them”.

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