Britain could welcome hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees

Britain could welcome hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees says Sajid Javid – as total number of visas issued for those with family in the UK hits 9,500

  • Health Secretary vowed the rescue schemes would be dramatically scaled up  
  • 9,500 visas issued to Ukrainians with family in Britain after 30,000 applications
  • Meanwhile, 150,000 people have expressed an interested in hosting refugees 

Britain could welcome hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting in Ukraine over the coming weeks, Sajid Javid said today.

After the Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme opened at the weekend, the Health Secretary vowed those arriving in the UK would get all the support they needed.

The UK has issued 9,500 visas to Ukrainians with family ties to Britain after receiving more than 30,000 applications, while 150,000 people had expressed an interest in hosting refugees through Homes for Ukraine. 

His assurance came as the latest intelligence assessment by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) warned that Russian forces were seeking to encircle the capital, Kyiv.

A refugee woman holds a baby while waiting on a bus for Ukrainian police to check papers and belongings in Brovary, Ukraine

Today, Sajid Javid vowed refugees arriving in Britain would get all the support they needed 

Mr Javid defended comments by Home Secretary Priti Patel who insisted security checks were needed on refugees from the war to prevent Russian spies infiltrating the country.

Speaking at the Conservative Spring Forum in Blackpool at the weekend, Ms Patel said it was ‘naive’ to assume that just because most people arriving in the UK were women and children there could not be Kremlin agents among them.

Mr Javid said that while any checks should be ‘proportionate’ the Salisbury nerve agent attack in 2018 underlined the need to be vigilant.

‘We saw in our country Russian agents came here with a deadly nerve agent, a chemical weapon, and they used it in Salisbury. We know it killed people and Russia was directly responsible for that,’ he told Sky News.

‘They infiltrated our country with agents, with a chemical weapon, and used it and so it is right there are some level of security checks. We also know that extremists and extremist organisations operate in that region.’

Mr Javid said the government was supporting Ukraine ‘in every single way we can’.  

‘That includes military aid, humanitarian aid, or indeed providing sanctuary for those that are fleeing Ukraine,’ he told LBC.

‘I expect that we will see hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians arrive here in the UK, and they will get all the support that they need.’

There has been anger at Ukrainian refugees waiting for UK visas being forced to sleep rough.

Host families have slammed the ‘nightmarish’ bureaucracy that is said to be prolonging the process for women and children who have fled the conflict.

And volunteers have warned that delays could be putting refugees at risk amid claims of trafficking.

Ukrainian refugees queue to get one of the 100 daily appointments at the documentation office to apply for temporary protection approved by the European Union in Torrevieja, Spain

Under the first phase of the Homes for Ukraine scheme, Britons can sponsor refugees for a visa and offer them a rent-free room in their house.

Once a host family has been found, refugees must complete visa application forms – providing identity documents and answers to detailed questions in English. There is then a further wait before the visa is issued, with government information saying the process can take up to six weeks.

Ruth McMenamin, a volunteer in Poland, said that UK-bound refugees were sleeping in train stations and emergency accommodation as they awaited permission to travel.

The marketing head, who works for a travel company in the UK, added: ‘There are dangers in having to wait around for applications to be processed as these women and children have nowhere to live. There are reports of trafficking.

‘The process needs to be sped up. Other countries are allowing people to go straight there.’

Although the first refugees under the scheme are due to arrive this week, host families have said they have ‘absolutely no idea’ how long the process will take.

Lee Havenhand, 33, and his wife Rebecca, 30, are to share their three-bedroom home with a mother and two daughters.

There has been anger at Ukrainian refugees waiting for UK visas being forced to sleep rough (pictured: a refugee woman eats in Brovary, Ukraine)

The couple, who live near Doncaster were ‘matched’ with the family through a Facebook site and were inspired to help after having visited Ukraine regularly for holidays.

Engineer Mr Havenhand said he helped the family, from Lviv in western Ukraine, with the visa process by filling in the required forms for them. But he added: ‘It’s a good job we did because the forms are an absolute nightmare. They took us six hours because of the amount of information and evidence that is required.

‘It asks for children’s birth certificates – which is a problem for many people who have already fled their homes. They also ask for proof of father’s consent, which is not always possible if he has gone off to fight in the war.

‘It’s a shambles. We just have to cross our fingers that it is going to go through soon.’

A 58-year-old woman, who is to share her home in Derbyshire with a Ukrainian woman and two daughters, also said the process was ‘absolutely impossible’.

In Europe refugees have been staying in temporary shelters, such as the ballroom at the Mandachi hotel in Romania (pictured)

The married woman, who asked not to be named, said the refugees she had been matched with had travelled from a village near Lviv to Berlin but wanted to move to the UK as the elder daughter spoke English. However, the ‘traumatised’ family have been sleeping on the floor of a rest centre while they wait for visas.

‘There is no way on God’s given earth that they could have filled those forms in,’ she said. ‘There are huge risks because of the information and detail I had to give as well – certainly enough to steal your identity. To make it worse, nobody knows how long it will take.’

A government spokesman said it is making changes to the visa process so it is ‘quicker and simpler’ for Ukrainian refugees. These include expanding capacity at Visa Application Centres and allowing valid passport holders to miss in-person appointments.     

According to the latest MoD assessment, the Russian advance on Kyiv remains stalled in the face of determined Ukrainian resistance with the bulk of Moscow’s forces still more than 25km (15 miles) from the centre.

Nevertheless, analysts believe the capital is still the Kremlin’s main military objective although it is thought the Russians will try to force it into submission through encirclement rather than attempting a direct assault.

‘Forces advancing from the direction of Hostomel to the north-west have been repulsed by fierce Ukrainian resistance,’ the MoD said.

‘Despite the continued lack of progress, Kyiv remains Russia’s primary military objective and they are likely to prioritise attempting to encircle the city over the coming weeks.’

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