The Homes for Ukraine scheme could become a model for dealing with future refugee crises, the minister in charge has said, but frustrations remain on the Ukrainian side.
Lord Harrington, who was drafted in to run the refugee scheme in March 2022, told an audience in Westminster on Thursday: “My vision is for this system to be a permanent part of Government, so that when refugee crises happen – and unfortunately they do all the time – we have a machinery.
He added: “We’ve got lots of goodwill, we’ve got this machinery of Government in place – it’s not perfect but it’s improving day by day – and I hope it will become a permanent part of how this country deals with refugees.”
Some 53,800 Ukrainian refugees have already arrived in the UK under visa schemes, including Homes for Ukraine, which amounts to just over half the number of visas granted.
The Homes for Ukraine scheme has been criticised for the length of time it has taken for the refugees to reach the UK and the fact that some Ukrainians have reportedly been made homeless after falling out with their hosts.
At Thursday’s event, hosted by centre-right think tank Onward, Ukrainian ambassador Vadym Prystaiko also expressed frustration with the visa process and called for the introduction of visa-free travel for Ukrainians.
Speaking to the PA news agency after the event, Mr Prystaiko said some Ukrainians had “lost patience” with waiting for a visa and could not understand why the process took so long when EU nations required no visas, seeing the policy as “a bit artificial”.
He said: “You don’t even see the status of what is happening to you in the months. You’re losing patience because you’re being bombarded and the sirens are sounding.”
Mr Prystaiko added that even his own family had had to wait more than a month for a UK visa after fleeing to Slovakia, but were still in a much more “fortunate” position than some others.
He also called for a “hybrid approach” that would allow some Ukrainians to be accommodated in hotels if they were made homeless by their British hosts, describing the problem as “a big, big deal”.
Lord Harrington said the Prime Minister had insisted on a visa scheme for reasons of security in order to prevent paedophiles smuggling children into the country.
But he added that the process had been streamlined and said the Government was working on a solution to rehouse the “very few cases” who had been made homeless.