“Homes for Ukraine” program: the United Kingdom sets up a “do-it-yourself” plan to house Ukrainian refugees, in the face of European solidarity
Step into a detailed new scheme on Monday in which the British Conservative government has effectively decided to contract out refugee care to the public – offering around $455 a month to local sponsors who take in rent-free Ukrainians. Even now – and unlike the European Union, where Ukrainians have been allowed free entry – Britain will still require visas for those fleeing the Russian siege. A wave of British generosity ensued – with 43,800 sponsors rushing to sign up within the first five hours. But community refugee programs in Britain have been notoriously plagued by bureaucracy and other woes, and the British opposition on Monday denounced the government’s plan for Ukrainians as a “DIY” asylum program.
The UK government has said it will do its best to streamline the process now. But speaking to the BBC last week, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab made one thing clear: the government is not prepared to “just open the door”.
The belated response highlights how Prime Minister Boris Johnson clung to the anti-immigrant and anti-EU sentiments that defined his winning Brexit campaign, which led to Britain’s departure from the European Union in 2020. The Brits wanted their country back, and that’s what the Brexiteers delivered. So even in the face of a historic refugee crisis unfolding across the Channel, Johnson’s reaction has been to keep the Ukrainian exodus to Europe away from home.
There is evidence to suggest that his government’s wavering response – one that puts scrutiny and procedure ahead of rapid assistance – is not in tune with the British public. Polls show 3 in 4 Britons are returning to refuge for those fleeing war, and around the same number want the government to do more to help those fleeing the Russian invasion.
Some observers see Johnson’s procrastination as the product of a decade of Conservative British politics that can be summed up in a famous quote from his Tory predecessor, Theresa May. In an interview with the Telegraph in 2012, May – then head of the UK Home Office – pledged to create “a truly hostile environment for illegal migration”.
The ‘hostile environment’ policy has ‘influenced the way everyone in government thinks, from senior ministers down to the border agency,’ Tony Travers, a British policy expert at London, told me. School of Economics. “But they’re suddenly faced with an audience with a completely different view of seeking asylum in this situation, and they’re having a really hard time adjusting because they’ve spent 20 years trying to keep immigrants out. .”
Johnson’s government has widened London’s post-Brexit chasm with Europe, particularly with France. As Ukrainians bound for Britain were stranded in the Channel port city of Calais, France, allegedly caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare to cross the Channel, French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said accused the British government of “lack of humanity”.
French President Emmanuel Macron had traded barbs with Johnson over British proposals to send asylum seekers crossing the English Channel back to France after 27 migrants drowned last November. Macron last week bluntly accused Johnson’s government of talking big but doing little to help Ukrainian refugees.
Speaking about London’s decision to simplify the visa process for Ukrainians through online applications, Macron told reporters he welcomed “the British change, which shows there was a problem, despite what is happening. said at the time”. He added: “Despite all the grand pronouncements…the British government continued to apply the current rules which meant they did not welcome Ukrainian refugees who wanted to reach British soil, saying they had to travel hundreds of kilometers to apply for a visa”.
“It’s a glimmer of pragmatism that they’re starting to align with their own statements, which is a step in the right direction, although there’s still a lot to do,” Macron said.
Britain has said its visa program that allows Ukrainians to join their families in Britain could attract up to 200,000 people – a number it would take more than a year to reach at the current rate of growth. about 400 per day. Citing security, the UK government has sought to scrutinize applicants, resulting in a process that some have described as “humiliating”.
His new effort, described in detail on Monday by Housing Secretary Michael Gove, will allow Ukrainians without families to come to Britain. Under this program, local volunteers will “nominate” Ukrainians whom they agree to house for at least six months in exchange for a stipend. Ukrainians will not be officially designated as refugees and will lack certain protections. But they will be given a temporary right to stay and work for three years.
Their numbers will not be officially capped, Gove said. But in practice, participation can be limited. As the Guardian reported, a similar British scheme aimed largely at Syrians was cumbersome and bogged down in bureaucracy, with only around 700 people taking part since 2015.
Gove described the British people’s request to open not just their hearts, but also their homes, as a national project “to help those fleeing persecution find peace, healing and the prospect of a brighter future”. Actor Benedict Cumberbatch has publicly offered to participate in the new Ukrainian program. Johnson’s transportation secretary too. Johnson himself, a spokesperson suggested, might not – due to “security” concerns.
Britons who already have Ukrainians in mind to sponsor can name them in their applications. But the government has said charities, universities and community groups will have a “big role” to play in connecting refugees with British sponsors who don’t know specific Ukrainians but still want to help.
Nevertheless, doubts remained as to how quickly this could happen.
Can’t the government “seriously ask Ukrainian families fleeing Vladimir Putin, who left their homes with nothing, to take to Instagram and come forward in the hope that a British family notices them? Is that really the extent of this diet? Lisa Nandy, a senior opposition Labor Party official, told parliament.
Gove said on Monday that 1,500 people across Britain signed up in the first hour, a number that snowballed despite complaints on social media that the government website had gone down. repeatedly crashed.
But even once the government has determined which homes are safe for Ukrainians – and which Ukrainians can safely enter Britain – more and more questions abound. What happens, for example, if British sponsors ask their Ukrainian guests – who will be allowed to stay for three years – to leave after the minimum commitment to host them for six months? Who will host them? Where will they go?
“After weeks of dithering and delays [the British government’s] The plan to protect people fleeing war in Ukraine falls short of the needs of the moment and the compassion of the public,” wrote Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of Refugee Action, in a statement. “This is a massive downgrade to the UK’s previous support for refugees – and it may even put them at risk.”
He added: “Community sponsorship is an important part of any refugee protection system and a wonderful way for people to show their support – but it can only ever be a drop in the ocean of this which is necessary.