The Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK has told Sky News he is concerned about refugees being left homeless after breakdowns in relationships with host families under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
Refugees minister Lord Harrington told an event in London on Thursday there have been “very few cases” in which sponsors found they were unable to cope, but assistance is being given to people in this situation to help them find new accommodation.
The latest figures show 33,000 people fleeing the fighting have now arrived in the UK sponsored by British families under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, with 68,700 visas issued out of 84,000 applications.
At an event hosted by the Onward think tank, the Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko said she has “a lot of concerns” about the number of people being kicked out by their hosts.
She said: “What is the backup plan UK government? Where should these people go?
“The hosts have no legal responsibility for them.. at the end of the day we have a Ukrainian family out on the streets, without enough time to find a new place for them, it’s another ordeal for people who’ve already been living through a war.”
Lord Harrington responded that there had been “very few cases” in which sponsorship had not worked and the relationship had broken down, suggesting some were in cases where people had changed their minds or discovered they could not cope.
He said Ukrainians in this situation were being found alternative accommodation through either the relevant local authority or working with a third-party organisation to re-match people with new hosts.
Speaking to Sky News, the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK, Vadym Rystaiko, said he had received calls on the issue.
He said: “I’m concerned about that. Initially, we didn’t have a system for re-matching – imagine someone has broken the relationship with the host and found themselves found themself on the street with their kids holding their hands – what do you do then?
“In some cases what we discussed with the previous waves of immigration where people were put in hotels – it actually could be better, as at least you have a place to go in the next minute. Some hybrid approach is probably something we have to think about right now – but it’s not just criticism, the system is getting better and better.”
The ambassador said he wanted to thank the British people for their “open houses and open hearts”, and acknowledged that with any big project there are “things that could be improved”.
He repeated his call for a temporary relaxation of visa rules to allow more refugees to come to the UK more quickly.
Lord Harrington said the UK government needed to maintain visa requirements to perform security checks. He acknowledged that at the beginning of the scheme many people were “waiting in the ether for far too long – and I take full responsibility of that”.
However, he insisted the system has now improved. A new app launched this week simplifies the process and can carry out a biometric eye test on a mobile phone, emailing a PDF confirming permission to travel in 48 hours.
“I’m not boasting or bragging… but the Syrian scheme took in 20,000 people over four years – to reach 50,000 [Ukrainian refugees] in four months is of some significance,” he said.
His figure of 50,000 Ukrainian refugees combines the 33,000 arriving under Homes for Ukraine, and 20,800 under the scheme for people with relatives in the UK.
Lord Harrington said he wanted to continue to harness the goodwill of the 200,000 people who have offered to take Ukrainians into their homes for future crises.
He said: “My vision is for this system to be a permanent part of government – so when a situation like this happens… the machinery of government is already in place. It’s not perfect but it’s improving every day.”
He contrasted this situation with the emergency response offered to Afghan refugees, noting that several thousand people are still in hotels, adding: “We need this machinery set up to become a permanent part of government – to deal with future crises.”