The Government has paused visa applications for unaccompanied minors fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine because it still has not decided how to deal with such applications, an immigration lawyer has said.
Current Government advice for the Homes For Ukraine scheme states that under-18s “must be applying as part of a family unit which includes their parent or legal guardian” to be eligible.
But this guidance did not appear on the gov.uk website until the middle of April, some weeks after the scheme went live on March 18, leading to confusion and accusations of a “national scandal” that the Home Office had moved the goalposts.
Mala Savjani, an immigration solicitor for the charity Here For Good based at Wilson Solicitors LLP, told the PA news agency: “We’ve been seeing applications from unaccompanied minors being paused and not decided, especially ones that were submitted in the second half of March and we would have absolutely expected decisions on those applications by now.
“It seems as though the Home Office is purposefully not making those decisions because they haven’t actually decided how to deal with those applications.”
PA has spoken to several UK citizens whose attempts to offer homes to unaccompanied minors have stalled, as those affected have described the Government’s approach as “beyond cruel”.
Julie Elliot, 62, hopes to welcome 16-year-old refugee Timothy Tymoshenko, who is severely autistic and non-verbal.
Ms Elliot and her husband Roger, 66, have 14 children together – four biological and 10 adopted.
Their adopted children all have disabilities and eight of them still live at the couple’s home in the Ribble Valley, Lancashire.
The pair worked as nurses before becoming full-time carers to their adopted family, being made MBEs in 2016 for services to children.
Ms Elliot has now been made Timothy’s legal guardian by his mother, Anna, and is considering travelling to Ukraine to care for Timothy as she has been given no update on his visa application made on March 30.
“Why offer with one hand and take it away with the other? It’s beyond cruel,” Ms Elliot said of the government’s policy.
“It would have been kinder not to offer and then all of these people could have found refuge in other places.”
Ms Elliot explained that Timothy’s mother is “getting to the end of being able to cope now”.
“One of two things is going to happen to Tim, either Anna’s going to crack and he’s going to have to go to one of these institutions, which there aren’t any left now because of the war,” she said.
“Or he is going to be dead under a pile of stones and I can’t let that happen to him, I can’t.”
Dr Catherine Hillman, a consultant obstetrician at Worcestershire Royal Hospital, is attempting to bring two teenagers, whose mothers cannot leave Kyiv because they are medical professionals, to the UK.
She helped to secure bursary places for the children, 14-year-old Ivan and 15-year-old Daria, at Cheltenham College, while her parents have signed up to act as guardians for the pair.
But despite having all the paperwork completed, including written consent from the children’s parents, and submitting the visa request on April 12 – the date the guidance on gov.uk was updated, evidenced by older versions of the web page on the Wayback Machine internet archive – they are still waiting to hear back.
“We applied for their visas what feels like 300 years ago and still have not received anything,” Dr Hillman, 45, told PA.
“We’ve just had the most appalling difficulty. I mean, it’s been smoke and mirrors, we’ve no idea what the truth of the matter is.”
Day 25 waiting.. no visas.. and yet their legal guardians are in the UK, denied access to their charges. Scandalous and cruel. @Richard4Watford @pritipatel @Mark_J_Harper @HopeandHomes @alexburghart @olena_zelenska @ZelenskyyUa @dlavrentsova @AnaisCrane @JulieElliot2 @JoCullimore pic.twitter.com/OH7KFVyQHa
— Catherine Hillman (@Catheri37141837) May 6, 2022
Dr Hillman, who lives in north Gloucestershire, said she has written to “everyone I can think of including Lord Harrington”, but to no avail.
A Government spokesperson cited “safeguarding concerns” as the reason unaccompanied minors are not being approved for the scheme.
But Ms Savjani said: “You’ve got unaccompanied children who are alone, stuck in different cities and towns across Europe, who are not with their parents, and in some cases have been separated from their friends.
“They have very limited funds available to them.
“But they’ve been offered a safe home to live in, in the UK, which has been checked by the local authorities, and the sponsor has had a DBS check completed.
“It’s a bit of a contradiction to say it’s a safeguarding issue, isn’t it?”
Here For Good, which was set up to provide free immigration advice to vulnerable EU citizens in the UK post-Brexit, has been helping with applications from Ukrainian citizens since the invasion began.
Ms Savjani said the Ukraine system is functioning similarly to other cases she has worked on in that it is “a system that works for some and not for others, with limited transparency”.
Dr Hillman said the Government has a “moral imperative to address this issue” and believes it is a “national scandal” that it has not done so.
She said: “They’re just placing roadblocks all the way along with an inconsistency of message as to how you should approach this problem, what you should do.
“And without any clarity you are left floundering, having promised people that you would be able to help them when they are in the very worst of circumstances.
“And personally, if that was my child, I would be appalled to be on the receiving end of such a ‘welcome’.”
A Government spokesperson said: “Due to safeguarding concerns, unaccompanied minors are only eligible under the Homes for Ukraine scheme if they are reuniting with a parent or legal guardian in the UK.”