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Ukraine invasion / New government scheme will let people apply to host Ukrainian refugees

Shetland Islands Council chief Maggie Sandison said ‘we should be able to develop arrangements quickly’

A mother with a young child crossing the border from Ukraine into Romania. Photo: Jen Stout

PEOPLE in the UK will be able to offer to host people fleeing Ukraine in their home as part of a new refugee visa scheme.

The UK Government is asking people interested in the Homes For Ukraine scheme to offer accommodation for at least six months.

An optional monthly tax-free ‘thank you’ payment of £350 per month will be offered to people who can accommodate one or more household.

The scheme will initially open on Friday 18 March for visa applications from Ukrainians and immediate family members who already have named people willing to sponsor them.

People and organisations wanting to be sponsors who do not know anyone personally fleeing Ukraine can register their interest in being a sponsor online.

“This is a huge humanitarian crisis, and we are urging the British public to come forward and help where they can,” the government said.

The government said those arriving into the UK will have met standard security checks and sponsors will undergo vetting checks.

But it said “we need a national effort – with devolved governments, charities, faith groups, businesses, councils and communities all working together to provide much needed support to those arriving in the weeks and months ahead”.

Previously there was an expectation that the UK could be looking at accepting as many as 200,000 displaced people from Ukraine, which would translate to around 20,000 coming to Scotland.

But secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities Michael Gove told the House of Commons on Monday there will be no limit to the number of Ukrainians who will be able to access the scheme.

And Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government is offering to welcome 3,000 refugees, “effectively immediately, and to assume full responsibility for safeguarding, housing and support”.

It will give Ukrainian nationals and residents the chance to live and work in the UK for up to three years, and provide them access to benefits, healthcare and other support.

Gove said the scheme should give people fleeing Ukraine “peace, healing and the prospect of a brighter future”.

Meanwhile, Shetland Islands Council has started discussions on its role in this new national scheme.

Chief executive Maggie Sandison said the Scottish Government wishes to take the lead for the implementation of the scheme in Scotland which is expected to mean more government and public service engagement than in England.

Discussions are about how families and businesses keen to help can offer accommodation and on what terms, and how the council could get involved to do likewise, and how this needs to be coordinated locally.

There is also some concern about unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) and vulnerable individuals as well as early screening of any applicants where there are concerns.

Sandison said: “Discussions are underway on how local public services will be signposted and made accessible – so possibly [through] national and local helplines as we had with shielding being made available, as well as a more proactive approach of local provision as we need/wish to do.”

She added that the council will be able to build on the experience gained in supporting Syrian refugees as well as through Covid pandemic.

“We should be able to develop arrangements quickly,” she said.