Homes for Ukraine scheme 'world-beating' – but visa stumbling block remains


The Government pledged to get hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Russia’s war to the UK in the coming weeks, with some 9,500 visas granted by Tuesday, March 22, according to Health Secretary Sajid Javid. Noel McDermott, a psychotherapist with over 25 years of experience in health, social care, and education, said the scheme, which aims to match Ukrainians with British residents offering rooms in their home, was “perfect.”

He told “If I was allowed to design a service, this is what I would have designed.

“Matching people with ordinary folk who have compassion, love, common sense, who are welcoming, who can empathise – that’s perfect.”

His remarks come at a critical time as millions of Ukrainians are displaced by Russia’s invasion of their country.

Launched on February 24, it has thus far led to more than 10 million people escaping their homes, as per figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

While at least 6.5 million people are thought to be displaced inside the war-torn country itself, the UN said that as of Monday, March 21, more than 3.5 million people had left Ukraine for neighbouring countries.

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In nations bordering Ukraine — Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Moldova and Belarus — refugees are hosted in reception centres should they not be able to stay with friends or relatives.

They are given food and medical care, as well as information about onward travel.

Some are staying on the continent, where European Union member states offer Ukrainians a blanket right to stay and work throughout for up to three years.

The bloc, just like another various dozen of countries, has waived its visa requirements for Ukrainians.

The UK did not follow suit, and as much potential as the Homes for Ukraine scheme may have, it has not shown signs of success yet, meaning that getting here could be problematic.

The first refugees under the programme were expected to arrive this week. However, there have been few reports of any having made it.

Meanwhile, complaints about lengthy and confusing bureaucracy abound.

What is certainly standing out is the British public’s eagerness to help, which Mr McDermott has praised as a truly “compassionate response”.

Nearly 90,000 Britons offered to open their doors to refugees for up to six months when applications opened last week.

The psychotherapist, when asked if he thought the scheme could set a precedent for the UK’s wider approach to refugees, said he “certainly hopes so”.

He claimed: “In the UK, we have masses of fantastic services that already exist. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here.

“All we need to do is (ensure) that basic period of initial resettlement is kind and loving and humane. And that’s what’s going to happen.”

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The strategy laid out to welcome Ukrainians, he argued, opens a door for true integration in the country.

He stressed: “And I mean immediate integration. Not wait until some professional comes along, does an assessment after six months and decides what your integration needs are.”

But the prospect of the Government transferring the sponsorship system to its broader refugee policies seems unlikely.

On Tuesday, 22 March, during the Nationality and Borders Bill’s passage through the House of Lords, some Tory peers and MPs attempted to erase some of its most contentious measures – including a clause enabling the offshoring of asylum seekers to overseas processing centres, a system that has previously been used by Australia.

There Conservatives — former ministers David Davis, Andrew Mitchell and Simon Hoare — rebelled against the Government’s plans, with Mr Davis telling MPs offshoring asylum seekers would be a “moral, economic and practical failure”.

Peers had removed this section from the bill last month.

However, after a long debate about potential amendments, MPs voted by 302 votes to 232, majority 70, to disagree with the Lords and put it back in.

Yasmine Ahmed, UK Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told “The UK Government is going to extreme lengths to disregard the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders Bill, the HRW boss emphasised, aims to “criminalise seeking asylum, discriminate between refugees, push back boats at sea and detain asylum seekers offshore”.


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