Letter: Home office and houses for the Ukrainian program

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Scenes of chaos, misinformation, uselessness, layers of bureaucracy; these are some of my comments after seeing what some of the Ukrainian refugees had to go through trying to make an appointment with the British Consulate in Warsaw. Some people, who fled the war, traveled in freezing conditions for days, had to travel 12 hours and back to meet with a Home Office official. Unacceptable? Certainly.

I agree that Britain has a long tradition of welcoming refugees, but before I begin to commend the Home Office for its efforts to welcome our Ukrainian friends, it is worth recalling that Poland has already provided accommodation and shelter to 1,916,000 refugees from Ukraine (17 March figures) while other neighboring countries have taken 283,000 (Hungary), 229,000 (Slovakia), 491,000. Interestingly, Ireland has caught 6,600 while the UK had only 3,000 so far, as of March 14.

So what awaits Ukrainian refugees, who might want to move to a safe country or, to be more precise, who are desperate for a safe settlement? On Monday, March 14, the government launched the Host Program for Ukrainians. The program itself went live on Friday, March 18.

The configuration is quite “interesting”. Although about 44,000 people have already joined the program, the government, in my opinion, made the wrong decision in terms of how the process worked. Essentially, applicants from Ukraine must have nominated people in the UK who are willing to sponsor them. It is only in the past few days that I have received a number of phone calls from people in Welwyn Garden City, who really want to support our Ukrainian friends, but have no information about the country, the culture or the ties with Ukraine, each individual will have to depend heavily on some of the Ukrainians already living in the UK. We are very lucky at Welwyn Hatfield, as we have worked a lot over the past few weeks with members of the Ukrainian community, who may be able to ‘match’ people in Ukraine, with people in the UK, who are happy to move to Britain.

I may be cynical, but the UK government is urging the public to come forward to help as we are in the midst of a global humanitarian crisis. In my opinion, this has clearly demonstrated that the government does not want to provide the proper infrastructure to support the program and is relying on the goodwill of the British people. I wonder if this is also due to the Home Office’s recent stance and reputation on immigration. I saw firsthand, in my daily work, how difficult it was for Afghan families to navigate the complex internal procedures of the Ministry of Interior. Inhuman and impossible task, to say the least.

I agree that to come to the aid of Ukrainian refugees we need a national effort to respond to the biggest humanitarian crisis in Europe since the war in the former Yugoslavia, but the government seems to me to be detached from certain parts of the process while local charities, faith groups, universities and businesses will need to step in to make the scheme a success.

Most readers may already know that each host family will receive a payment of £350 for up to 12 months will be paid in areas. Anyone wishing to host someone must do so for at least 6 months. The program clearly states (or not) that local authorities will receive significant funding to support Ukrainian refugees. When and how will this funding be distributed?

The government also says that there are many organizations that will be happy to provide additional support, for example by finding schools for Ukrainian children, registering families with general practitioners or even helping people to open Bank accounts.

I am aware that the government, whatever it is, always has the difficult task of managing complex subjects such as the humanitarian crisis or immigration. However, it seems to me that the Ministry of the Interior, once again, has not done its homework. I wonder if anyone from the Ukrainian community has been consulted on the effective ways in which this system should work in practice. I wonder if any of the ministers have thought of talking to any of the Ukrainian refugees about their fears and their future plans and aspirations. Any such program must be about people and must take human factors into account; provide shelter while protecting the integrity and dignity of people. Many Ukrainians I have spoken to are proud and keen not to be a burden on the UK taxpayer.

And U.S ? As I have said many times before, we must try to seize every opportunity to make a difference, to bring peace and, even in the most difficult situations, to remain determined to build bridges and not walls. Over the past few weeks, I have realized again that we must continue to be a force for good! We cannot give in even when we feel broken and completely overwhelmed. Naive? May be. However, do we have another choice?

Key words: Ukraine, Host Program for Ukrainians, Refugees, Welwyn Garden City

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