'Tens of thousands' Ukrainian refugees expected in UK, Michael Gove says

TOPSHOT - A Polish soldier helps a family on their way to take a train at the Medyka border crossing, after crossing the Ukrainian-Polish border, southeastern Poland on March 12, 2022. - More than two and a half million people have fled the
About 2.5m Ukrainians are thought to have fled their homes since the Russian invasion. Michael Gove said the UK will welcome 'tens of thousands'. (AFP via Getty Images)

Michael Gove has said “tens of thousands” of refugees are expected to come to the UK amid the Ukraine crisis.

Gove, the government secretary for housing and “levelling up”, revealed the ballpark figure after Downing Street released details of a new scheme to help people fleeing the Russian invasion.

The Homes for Ukraine programme, to be rolled out this week, will allow individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to bring people escaping the war to safety - even if they have no ties to the UK.

Asked on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme if “tens of thousands is enough”, with countries like Poland having committed to taking 1.5m people and France 100,000, Gove said: “There are so many things we have to do. In a way, in the face of a crisis of this magnitude, we have to make sure we do what we can, when we can.

“That’s why our approach is phased, it’s also why it’s alongside the humanitarian support that we’re giving.”

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 09, 2022: Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations Michael Gove is seen in Downing Street in central London on March 09, 2022 in London, England. (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
Michael Gove said the first refugees are expected in a week's time. (Getty Images)

The first refugees are expected “in a week’s time,” Gove added.

Under the scheme, Britons offering accommodation to Ukrainian refugees through the new route will receive a “thank you” payment of £350 per month.

People sponsoring refugees will be required to commit to the scheme for a minimum of six months, but are encouraged to keep up the offer for as long as they can.

Gove, asked if he will offer a room, told the programme: “I’m in the process of seeking to see what I can do, yes.”

Watch: Fighting in Volnovakha leaves Ukranian city devastated

It comes after the government has been heavily criticised for the speed and scale of its efforts to bring fleeing Ukrainians to the UK.

The UK’s ambassador to Ukraine, Melinda Simmons, told the Sunday Times she “totally gets the criticism”.

And Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, appearing on Sophy Ridge on Sunday after Gove, said it has been “an embarrassment”.

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“The likelihood of an invasion of Ukraine was known weeks ago. The Home Office have been far too slow, far too mean in relation to this.”

Starmer added there should not be a cap on the number of refugees allowed into the country: “We should provide sanctuary to all of those who are fleeing for their lives that want to come to the UK and play our full part.”

Gove said the government has had to guard against a “tiny minority” who might be “intent on exploitation” of the scheme.