Ukrainian refugees accuse Home Office of becoming ‘tired of Ukraine’ after altering resettlement schemes

24 February 2024, 08:57

LBC spoke to a mother and daughter from the war-torn city of Mariupol
LBC spoke to a mother and daughter from the war-torn city of Mariupol. Picture: Getty

By Shivani Sharma

Ukrainians hoping to flee Russian aggression have accused the Home Office of becoming 'tired of helping Ukraine', as they are unable to seek safety in the UK.

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This comes after schemes which were set up to help Ukrainians have been altered or closed.

On 19 February, the government closed the Ukraine Family Scheme, which had been opened to allow UK residents to bring over family members from Ukraine.

The closure of this scheme has been described as a 'cruel move', but the government has insisted that refugees can still come to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

But the government has also now altered the Homes for Ukraine scheme, making it harder for refugees to be matched with sponsors.

LBC has spoken to Yulia Ivanova and her daughter, Sophia, who are originally from the war-torn city of Mariupol.

They came over to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme in April 2022.

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A column of tanks marked with the Z symbol stretches into the distance as they proceed northwards along the Mariupol-Donetsk highway
A column of tanks marked with the Z symbol stretches into the distance as they proceed northwards along the Mariupol-Donetsk highway. Picture: Getty

Ms Ivanova now wants to bring her parents and grandparents to the UK, as they are currently stuck in Ternopil in the West of Ukraine, with no permanent home, job or financial support.

But she is no longer eligible to become a sponsor under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, as rules have become stricter.

Ms Ivanova has told LBC how worried she is about her family stuck in Ukraine: 'I will be more peaceful in my heart when we are together.. it's very dangerous in all territory of Ukraine.. all day.. lots of people die there.. I want a more safe life for them'.

'The fact that the (Family) scheme was closed on the eve of the second anniversary of the Russian army's invasion of Ukraine only indicates that this war has tired other countries and in some way they are tired of actively participating in helping Ukraine fight against the terrorist country.'

'Maybe England is tired too. I am personally grateful to every Englishman, to every citizen of every country for helping Ukraine, but I pray do not forget about us.'

Ms Ivanova's grandmother is elderly and immobile and needs medical treatment, but is unable to get any.

Their family home in Mariupol was destroyed and her family has not been able to go back since the Russian occupation of the city two years ago.

Initially, the Homes for Ukraine scheme allowed anyone in the UK to sign up as a sponsor, providing they could provide a spare room for six months.

Ms Ivanova had been planning to provide accommodation for her family and act as a sponsor herself, but this is no longer possible.

Under the new rules, LBC has learnt that only British or Irish citizens, or someone with indefinite leave to remain, can now sign up to be a sponsor, and there is a shortage of these individuals signing up.

Yulia has been unable to find a British sponsor for her family members.

Immigration barrister Jennifer Blair has told LBC that thousands of Ukrainians are still looking to flee the war and apply for refugee status in the UK every single month, but it has now become extremely difficult to find sponsors.

Most of the pro-bono cases she deals with now involve Ukrainian soldiers who have become injured and now want to join their families who have come to the UK through the Homes for Ukraine scheme, but they have now found they are unable to do this.

'A lot of British hosts who wanted to host, HAVE hosted, they may have done it once, or more than once, but local councils hadn't really scaled up their support yet, so people felt unsupported and didn't want to do it again'

'Ukrainians who have arrived and have spare rooms, they haven't hosted yet, and feel more connected to the conflict, so are more willing to host.'

'But they obviously aren't British citizens, so they are now being blocked from being able to provide support... there will now be situations where half a family is here, and half the family is somewhere else.. and they won't be able to change that.'

Ms Blair believes that the decision to close or reduce eligibility for the Ukrainian schemes is due to government attempts to reduce immigration figures.

'It was announced on the same day that cut care workers from bringing their children to come to the UK... it's about finding any roadblocks they can put in the way for people coming to the UK so they can show they have reduced the overall number of migration'.

Former refugees minister Lord Harrington has also told LBC that the Ukrainian government were concerned about losing too many skilled workers to the UK, and that they put pressure on the government here to reduce the numbers of people coming to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

But for people like Ms Ivanova, there is very much a feeling that Ukrainians have been forgotten, and this is a particularly incomprehensible decision for them during the second year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, which has resulted in the deaths of over 10,000 civilians there.

'For me it's like a big pain in my heart.. a lot of people in Ukraine are in a terrible situation, they want to leave, they want their children, but they can't do anything... because people have said sorry.. our programme is closed'.

The Home Office said in a statement: "Our priority remains continuing to provide safe and secure haven for those fleeing the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, whilst providing certainty and assurance for Ukrainians in the UK on their future as the war continues.

"It is right that we continue to adapt and develop the visa routes to ensure they remain as efficient and sustainable as possible.

"Ukrainian nationals who would have qualified under the Ukraine Family Scheme will still be able to apply to Homes for Ukraine. Family members who are settled here can also still continue to sponsor a family member to come to the UK under Homes for Ukraine."

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