The UK has issued around 3,000 visas to refugees so far, but there has been criticism that this new scheme doesn't go far enough, as Political Correspondent Dan Hewitt reports
Britons offering homes to Ukrainian refugees through a new humanitarian route will receive a “thank you” payment of £350 per month, the government has announced.
It comes amid continued criticism of ministers' handling of the refugee crisis prompted by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The Homes for Ukraine scheme, to be rolled out this week, will allow individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to bring people fleeing the war to safety - even if they have no ties to the UK.
Sponsors can nominate a named Ukrainian individual or family to stay with them in their home, or offer a separate property for them to use rent-free.
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Michael Gove, the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary, said the UK “stands behind Ukraine in their darkest hour”, and urged people to “join the national effort” to help refugees.
Quizzed by ITV News on the government's handling of the refugee crisis, Mr Gove was asked why ministers appeared to be working out its policy in phases - given the multiple warnings of Russian invasion of Ukraine.
"We've been working across government to deal with this terrible situation," the MP said.
"The Home Office moved incredible rapidly to establish additional capacity to process the huge number of refugees in Poland and elsewhere in the European Union," he stressed.
Pushed on the relatively small numbers of Ukrainian refugees taken in by the UK compared to neighbouring Ireland, for example, the minister said: "The system that we have, both the family system and the new Homes for Ukraine scheme that we're launching today are uncapped. There's no limit on the number of people who can come to this country as a result of this scheme".
Labour cautioned that “too many questions remain unanswered” about the new scheme.
Shadow levelling-up secretary Lisa Nandy said it was unclear what support would be offered to vulnerable children and older people, whether provision would made for unaccompanied children, and what help would go to local government, sponsoring organisations and housing providers.
She said if Britons were required to have a prior connection to a Ukrainian family to sponsor them, that would be “a severe limitation”.
“The pandemic showed that in a crisis we can step up as a country,” she added.
“We stand ready to do that again. So far ministers have behaved like these are ordinary times, but these are extraordinary times and we need extraordinary measures.”
The leader of the Liberal Democrats has called on Boris Johnson to sack Priti Patel over her department’s handling of the crisis.
In a speech at the party’s spring conference on Sunday, Sir Ed Davey said the Home Secretary’s response to the “humanitarian catastrophe” has been “utterly shameful”.
The Lib Dem leader said: “She has answered desperation with delays. Crisis with confusion. Pain with paperwork."
“The British people want to offer them a home – but Priti Patel has slammed the door in their face.”
Ms Patel and the Home Office have been approached for comment.
What does the new scheme entail? ITV News Political Report Shehab Khan explains
The government has been criticised from both opposition, and some of its own MPs on its handling of the crisis.
Caroline Noakes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North, has been a vocal critic. She welcomed the new scheme on Sunday, telling ITV News: "This is definitely progress."
She added, however: "We haven't seen anything yet implemented at the speed it needs to be".
Responding to the government’s plans for a Homes for Ukraine scheme for refugees, Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "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.
"By establishing a visa route and naming scheme, it will inevitably be restricted to those who are known to people in the UK and be a quite complex, lengthy visa application process.
"A humanitarian crisis requires a speedy and compassionate response, not one that puts bureaucratic hurdles ahead of the immediate needs of people whose lives have been ripped apart."
People sponsoring refugees through the new uncapped route will be required to commit to the scheme for a minimum of six months, but are encouraged to keep up the offer for as long as they can.
Those offering accommodation will be vetted and Ukrainian applicants will undergo security checks.
As a “thank you”, sponsors will receive payments of £350 per month. A website gathering expressions of interest is set to launch on Monday.
The government said it is also working to enable communities, the voluntary sector and charitable and religious organisations to sponsor groups of Ukrainians.
Ukrainians who have sponsors will be granted three years’ leave to remain in the UK, with entitlement to work and access public services.
Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford have said both Scotland and Wales are willing to become “super sponsors” for Ukrainian refugees.
In a letter to Mr Gove, they also renewed their calls on Westminster to waive all visa requirements for Ukrainian nationals trying to get into the UK.
The governments in Holyrood and Cardiff said super sponsorship would enable Ukrainians to get clearance to enter each country quickly and be housed temporarily while they work with local partners to provide longer term accommodation, safeguarding and access to services.