NORTHERN Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has warned that even after the government’s U-turn on allowing more Ukrainian refugees into the county, those finding a sponsor and wanting to come to the UK could still be trapped in bureaucratic limbo for a long time.
Welcoming the government’s Homes for Ukraine initiative, the Liberal Democrat MP – who is his party’s home affairs spokesman – made the suggestion that it still fell short of the UK’s obligations under the 1951 refugee convention.
The Refugee Council meanwhile has voiced its concern that under the new scheme displaced people from Ukraine are still not recognised as refugees.
The number of people who have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion has now reached three million. The UN’s refugee agency estimates that a further 12 million people are displaced within the Ukraine.
The Homes for Ukraine programme will open on Friday 18 March for visa applications from Ukrainians and immediate family members who already have named people willing to sponsor them.
People wanting to be sponsors who do not know anyone personally fleeing the Ukraine can register their interest in being a sponsor.
Anyone in the UK with a spare room, or separate self-contained accommodation that is unoccupied, can come forward to help. Accommodation must be available for at least six months, be fit for people to live in, and suitable for the number of people to be accommodated.
Carmichael said: “This is significant and welcome progress, even if I suspect it still leaves us somewhere short of our obligations under the 1951 convention.
“Families and communities across the UK and in the isles have been crying out for the chance to sponsor refugees for years.
“Local people have been writing to me for days and weeks asking how they can help and calling for an opportunity to support refugees – a testament to the openness and generosity of islanders.
“It shouldn’t have taken weeks of appalling humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine for the government to finally listen.”
He added: “Even after the government’s welcome U-turn and side-lining of Priti Patel from this scheme, Ukrainian refugees trying to get to the UK are still trapped in bureaucratic limbo.
“Michael Gove [the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities] couldn’t even say when people will start to arrive under his new scheme.
“Ministers should listen to what people the length and breadth of this country have been saying: allow Ukrainian refugees to come to the UK today, without first having to apply for visas.”
The chief executive of the Refugee Council Enver Solomon added: “As an organisation with seven decades of experience working directly with refugees to help them rebuild their lives after the trauma of war, we are concerned that people from Ukraine are still not being recognised as refugees and being asked to apply for visas when they just need to be guaranteed protection.
“This programme falls short of enabling any Ukrainian, particularly the most vulnerable such as children who are alone, to seek safety in the UK and access the full support they urgently need.
“By establishing a visa route and naming scheme, it will inevitably be restricted to those who are known to people in the UK and be a quite complex lengthy visa application process.
“A humanitarian crisis requires a speedy and compassionate response not one that puts bureaucratic hurdles ahead of the immediate needs of people whose lives have been ripped apart.”
Further information on the new government scheme can also be found here.
Meanwhile two concerts have been announced to raise funds for Ukraine humanitarian appeals.
Shetland Community Orchestra will perform at the Lerwick Baptist Church at Quoys on 26 March.
A variety concert is also planned at the Sound Hall in Lerwick on 16 April, featuring Odessa, High Level Hot Club, Sarah Thomson, Jenny Henry + Friends and more.
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