Yet again, the government has come up with a half-baked scheme that pushes responsibility on to the individual, argues Terina Hine
So far 2.8 million people have fled Ukraine. Most are being housed in neighbouring countries, particularly Poland, but finally Ukrainian refugees are being permitted onto these shores as part of the government's better-late-than-never “Homes for Ukraine” policy. In an overwhelming sense of solidarity 88,000+ people have offered their homes to Ukrainian refugees in less than 24 hours of the scheme going live.
The heartwarming images of Germans opening their doors to refugees was one of the few good news stories to hit our screens over the past couple of weeks. By 25 February - the day after the first Russian bombs fell on Ukraine - German authorities had already begun preparations to receive people fleeing this war. This contrasts sharply to the British government’s approach.
Blinded by prejudice our government has been unable to divorce itself from the moral void of its refugee and immigration policies, and only now, well over two weeks into the crisis, is it beginning to act.
But even with the public outcry over the government’s abysmal response, this new policy, so triumphantly announced by Michael Gove on Monday, is seriously lacking.
Applications for visas do not actually open until Friday, while Brits wishing to be sponsors must find the families or individuals they want to house themselves. The government says charities will help with matching in “phase two” of the scheme, but in the meantime it’s over to Instagram.
And concerns have been raised about the lack of checks to protect already very vulnerable people from exploitation. The DBS scheme usually used for those who work or have contact with children or vulnerable adults is thought too cumbersome to be used in this instance. But there remains no clarity on support for vulnerable children, older people or unaccompanied minors; most of the Ukrainian refugees are women and children so are particularly liable to exploitation.
Enver Soloman of the Refugee Council has raised concerns about the lack of safeguards in such a voluntary led scheme, saying:
"We are also worried about ensuring the safety and wellbeing for Ukrainians who have fled bloodshed, and the level of support available for their sponsors. 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.”
Local authorities are already struggling to house thousands of asylum seekers and have yet to learn what level of support they will be given under this new policy. Without a coordinated approach and central government funding refugees will be unable to access the shelter, support and education they need.
And still Ukrainians wishing to come to the UK are required to have visas. According to the Home Office only 4,000 visas have been granted so far, while more than 17,000 applications are awaiting approval. Applicants are required to complete multi-page forms and produce documents few refugees will have. But for all their criticism of the scheme Labour refuses to support visa free travel for these desperate people.
That no similar outpouring of support was on offer to refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia or Eritrea does not negate the needs of the people fleeing from Ukraine right now. Rather it highlights the UK’s barbaric position towards refugees and asylum seekers. The government has responded by trying to maintain the architecture of its brutal asylum system and hold on to its small state principles.
Pushing responsibility onto private households in this way is an abdication of state responsibility. Rather than launching a government led scheme supported by local authorities, the state has withdrawn.
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