Households offered £350 a month to host Ukrainian refugees as Britain opens its doors
Households will be paid £350 per month to host refugees as part of an unprecedented scheme that will see Britain open its doors to an unlimited number of Ukrainians fleeing the Russian onslaught.
The Homes for Ukraine scheme will initially allow people to sponsor named individuals or families to stay in their homes. It will then be opened up to charities, businesses and faith organisations to sponsor large groups.
The scheme, which represents a radical departure from the Government's earlier approach to the refugee crisis, would allow people in Britain to sponsor strangers they have discovered by trawling social media appeals from those fleeing Ukraine.
Members of the public will be able to fill out an "expression of interest" form from Monday, signing up with an email address to be kept up to date as the scheme launches.
On Saturday, Ukraine accused Russian forces of killing seven civilians in an attack on women and children trying to flee fighting near Kyiv, the capital.
The Ukrainian intelligence service said the victims, including a child, were killed as they fled the village of Peremoha and that "the occupiers forced the remnants of the column to turn back". Officials said the victims were not in a designated evacuation corridor.
Meanwhile, in a three-way phone call Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz, the leaders of France and Germany, urged Vladimir Putin, their Russian counterpart, to end the deadly blockade of Mariupol.
The unveiling of the new refugee scheme comes after MPs and Mr Macron criticised the British Government's initial offer to Ukrainian refugees as inadequate, with the French president accusing the UK of failing to live up to its "grand statements" on helping them.
Until now, the Home Office has only offered visas to refugees with family in the UK. It has been criticised for a "chaotic" rollout of the family scheme, with Ukrainians said to be facing long delays and excessive bureaucracy.
The new scheme, expected to be open for the sponsorship of individuals by Friday, brings the country closer to the EU approach that allows in Ukrainians for three years. In the EU, refugees from Ukraine do not require visas.
Ukrainians who take part in the scheme will be allowed to remain in the UK for up to three years, with access to work, the NHS, and benefits with the exception of housing benefits.
The Government said those offering accommodation would be "vetted" and Ukrainian applicants "will undergo security checks".
But a government source said each application would be processed "in a matter of hopefully days", allowing those being sponsored to board a flight or boat for Britain.
The source acknowledged that the scheme may "sound a bit strange" and that there could be "a degree of failure with some of the matches" between sponsors and Ukrainians, but said: "We were trying to be led by what we can deliver quickly."
The £350 per month payment was "far cheaper" than the cost of hotel accommodation, "which averages at about £200 per night", the source added.
The plan was drawn up by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, who on Saturday urged people in Britain to "give a safe home to those who so desperately need it".
Mr Gove said: "The crisis in Ukraine has sent shockwaves across the world as hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been forced to flee their homes, leaving everything they know and love behind.
"The UK stands behind Ukraine in their darkest hour, and the British public understand the need to get as many people to safety as quickly as we can. I urge people across the country to join the national effort and offer support to our Ukrainian friends."
On Sunday, Mr Gove will call for individuals, landlords, businesses, community groups and other organisations to offer rooms to Ukrainians.
Sponsors will be asked to provide homes or spare rooms rent free for a minimum of six months. They will receive £350 per month as a "thank you". The government source said sponsors should not ask for rent payments but might ask for "a contribution to bills and food" once their lodgers "find their feet".
Separately, the Government will provide additional funding to local councils in the areas in which Ukrainian refugees are being accommodated to help fund the additional demands on public services.
Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford said both Scotland and Wales were willing to become "super sponsors" for Ukrainian refugees.
Russian forces besieging the port city of Mariupol shelled a mosque sheltering more than 80 people including children, Ukraine said on Saturday as fighting raged on the outskirts of Kyiv and Moscow kept up its bombardment of other cities.
"They are bombing it [Mariupol] 24 hours a day, launching missiles. It is hatred. They kill children," Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, said.
Russian troops massed close to Kyiv have fanned out around the capital in an attempted encirclement. Mr Zelensky warned that Russia would have to "kill us all" if it wanted to take Kyiv, where armed residents are preparing for an assault.
According to the UN, 2.6 million people have fled Ukraine, and the EU has warned that number could climb to five million in Europe. More than 1.4 million Ukrainian have crossed into Poland since the invasion began, the largest number of refugees seen in the country since the Second World War.
Warsaw's mayor has appealed for international help as the Polish capital becomes overwhelmed, with more than one tenth of all those fleeing the war arriving in the city.
The Czech Republic has asked the European Union for temporary shelters to help it accommodate up to 50,000 refugees from Ukraine. More than 102,000 Ukrainian refugees have been registered in the country, but the real number is thought to be at least 200,000.