A government drive to recruit more hosts for Ukrainian refugees has been branded hollow and ironic as it coincides with plans to stop asylum seekers arriving in the UK having crossed the Channel.
Tuesday marks one year since the announcement of the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme, which allows people and organisations to give Ukrainians fleeing the war a place to stay.
Since it officially opened on March 18 last year, a few days after being announced, some 117,100 people have arrived in the UK under the visa scheme.
Ukrainians who come via this route can live, work and study in the UK and access public funds.
Host Kitty Hamilton, co-founder of the advocacy group Vigil for Visas, said while she and others had wanted to look at ways to encourage more hosts to come forward, they were left feeling “decidedly queasy at the prospect of trying to rally support for Ukrainian refugees at a time when the Government was pushing for the most inhumane anti-immigration policy so far”.
She said the timing is “terrible” as the Illegal Migration Bill “stands in complete contradiction with what the Homes for Ukraine Scheme is about”.
She noted two government recruitment logos which she had been sent as part of a roundtable discussion on how to attract more hosts under the scheme and said the wording of the planned social media campaign was “ironic”.
One of the logos read: “Help transform the lives of people who have fled the devastating war in Ukraine.”
Ms Hamilton, who has had a Ukrainian mother and her two children living in her home since May, said: “Replace it (Ukraine) with Syria, replace it with Yemen, replace it with any number of different countries.
“There is no difference for people fleeing devastating war.”
She said refugees are being “categorised” depending on where they are from, as she called for people from other war-torn countries to be allowed to enter the UK under similar conditions.
She told the PA news agency: “There is something wrong with a system that results in categorisation of refugees – that we are categorising one set of refugees as more important than another.”
She said she believed, despite a number of difficulties along the way including matching refugees with hosts, the Ukraine scheme had been successful.
But she questioned the “unfairness” when refugees from other countries are considered.
She said: “We’re very grateful that the Government has acknowledged that we need support in this way, but the timing is terrible and the messages sound hollow.
“How can we, hand on heart, talk about getting people to transform the lives of people who have fled the devastating war in Ukraine, how can we hand on heart say that to the people of Ukraine and not others?
“The unfairness of the scheme is not the fault of the hosts. We would love to have this scheme available to all so that we have a choice.”
She acknowledged that there are areas of the country and communities which “feel under great strain” as a result of immigration, but said if refugees were allowed “to work from the day they get here – this would be such a good thing for the country as a whole”.
She added: “This is why genuinely I believe that as a nation we are bigger than we are being told we are. I think that actually, genuinely, people want to help those in need and we’ve been able to do that with the Ukraine scheme in a way that we have never been able to do with any other refugee group.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud history of providing safe and legal routes for those who genuinely need it, and since 2015 we have offered a place to almost half a million men, women and children seeking safety.
“We are committed to creating more routes to safety for vulnerable people across the globe, but we must first grip the rise in illegal migration and stop the boats.
“Which is why we are introducing new legislation that will see people who come to the UK illegally, liable for detention and swift removal.”