Bureaucratic delay hampers UK’s response to Ukrainian refugee crisis​
Louise Heath
Description: Ukraine ribbon (Serhii Ivashchuk_iStock)
Since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, the UK has been a leading figure in rendering military assistance and financial support to the invaded country. But its response to the resulting refugee crisis has been appalling.
Following widespread criticism, the UK announced visa concessions for Ukrainians to help those with family ties in the UK travel to the country. But as of 24 March, only 20,100 Ukrainians had received visas under the scheme. Government data showed that 71,400 applications had been opened and 35,500 submitted. The low issuance could be due to the technical difficulties associated with the route, as some applicants complained of the visa application page crashing midway through. The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, has described the process as ‘shockingly low and painfully slow’.
Though the government seems to have improved the application process, the scheme is still hampered with red-tape restrictions as many UK residents are unable to bring their family members over. While EU nations are providing visa-free access to the fleeing refugees, Britain has refused to lift its entry restrictions. According to the UN Refugee Agency, out of 3.6m who have fled Ukraine to date, over 2m have been received by Poland, 563,000 by Romania, 374,000 by Moldova, 330,000 by Hungary, and 260,000 by Slovakia.
However, to allow Ukrainians without family ties to enter the UK, the government recently announced the Homes for Ukraine scheme. The scheme will enable UK homeowners to provide accommodation in their homes to people fleeing the war. Since applications opened on 18 March, over 150,000 individuals and groups have expressed interest. People arriving under the scheme may stay in the UK for up to three years and access healthcare, employment support, benefits and education.
Meanwhile, concern grows over potential abuse of Ukrainians under this scheme. A human trafficking policy expert at Christian Action, Research and Education, Lauren Agnew, told the Guardian that while the scheme is ‘well-motivated’, red flags could be missed in the vetting of hosts due to the large numbers of applications needing to be processed quickly.
‘Recent statistics from the National Crime Agency estimate there are at least 6,000–8,000 modern slavery offenders in the UK. We can be certain that some of this number will be seeing the [scheme] as an opportunity to turn a profit,’ she said.
In addition, a Facebook page matching Ukrainians to UK homeowners is also being targeted by hackers suspected to be Russian trolls trying to infiltrate the group.

About the author(s)

Olusegun Akinfenwa is a correspondent for Immigration Advice Service, a UK-based law firm offering a global immigration service and legal...