British public to be asked to house Ukrainian refugees amid ongoing criticism of government response

ITV News Political Correspondent Shehab Khan has the latest on Britain's response to the refugee crisis

The government will ask the British public to open their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion, amid continuing criticism of ministers' response to the refugee crisis.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove will next week set out details of a new “sponsored” humanitarian route to allow Ukrainians without family links to the UK to come to the country.

It comes against a backdrop of fierce criticism of the government's reaction to the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since WWII, with around 2.2 million having fled the country.

There have been reports of Ukrainians travelling hundreds of miles across Europe to be processed at visa centres - a requirement which is being scrapped, but not until next week.

Listen to our podcast for the latest analysis on the crisis

The Daily Telegraph reported that ministers will unveil a hotline and webpage where individuals, charities, businesses and community groups will be able to offer rooms to those escaping the conflict.

Refugees who enter through the new route will be allowed to stay for an initial period of 12 months during which they will be entitled to work, claim benefits and access public services.

Officials will match them with offers of free accommodation from the sponsoring individuals and organisations who will be vetted to ensure it is safe and secure.

Boris Johnson told Sky News: "On Monday, you’ll get from the Levelling Up Secretary, you’ll get the programme that will allow people to come in, so (if) people want to welcome (refugees) into their own homes, they can do so."

A refugee boy who fled conflict from neighbouring Ukraine cries at the railway station after arriving to Zahony, Hungary. Credit: AP

The Telegraph said those offering housing would have to agree to take the refugees for a minimum period – potentially six months – and demonstrate that they meet appropriate standards.

Labour said the government's handling of Ukrainian refugees has been "woeful" and questioned why more had not been done ahead of the invasion to prepare for a humanitarian crisis, given there had been warnings of an attack weeks before it was launched.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow international trade secretary, said rather than asking people to open their homes up to refugees, without revealing details of the scheme, the government should be working with local authorities to house Ukrainians in the most appropriate accommodation.

A government spokesman said the details of the scheme were being worked on “at pace”.

“The routes we have put in place follow extensive engagement with Ukrainian partners,” the spokesman said.

“This is a rapidly moving and complex picture and as the situation develops we will continue to keep our support under constant review.”

Families say their painful goodbyes at Lviv station as they are torn apart by war

The move comes after Home Secretary Priti Patel was urged to do more to make it easier for those coming to the UK through the existing family route.

On Thursday, Ms Patel announced that from Tuesday people will be able to apply online for a visa and will no longer have to go to a processing centre to give their biometrics.

It followed criticism that the UK’s response has been painfully slow in the face of the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since WWII.

The British Red Cross said the quickest way of fixing the problem would be to remove the requirement for a visa, while the Refugee Council said Ms Patel’s announcement “does not go anywhere near far enough”.

What has the UK done to sanction Russia?

Meanwhile, after the government announced it was sanctioning seven more Russians linked to Vladimir Putin’s regime including Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the UK and other allies need to keep up the pressure with further measures – including a freeze on all Russian banking assets.

“We must double down and ramp up the global pressure on Putin. We must go further on sanctions to keep tightening the vice,” she said in a speech in Washington.

“We want a situation where they can’t access their funds, they can’t clear their payments, their trade can’t flow, their ships can’t dock and their planes can’t land.”

What is the latest update from the invasion?

It comes as the Ministry of Defence (MoD) warned Russia could be re-posturing for a “renewed offensive” in Ukraine.

“This will probably include operations against the capital Kyiv,” a MoD statement said.

Earlier, the MoD said the Russian forces were committing increasing numbers to encircling key cities, reducing the forces to continue their advance which “will further slow Russian progress”.

Mr Johnson said that he believed the conflict would only end when Mr Putin accepted he had made “a disastrous miscalculation” and withdrew his forces.

“Vladimir Putin has himself made it very difficult to find an off ramp, and he has, I think, driven his tank, so to speak, down a cul de sac from which it will be very hard to extricate himself but he must,” he said.