Over 4 million refugees have left Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion. Many of those fleeing the conflict have found temporary accommodation in neighbouring countries. This number is rising on a daily basis and the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) reports that over 6.5 million people are displaced inside Ukraine.
The UK Government has opened a number of routes for those seeking sanctuary in the UK. This article summarises the ways Ukrainian refugees can come to the UK, with a particular focus on the UK Government’s ‘Homes for Ukraine’ refugee scheme. It will look at the role the Welsh Government and other organisations will play in welcoming refugees to Wales.
It builds on our previous article which sets out Welsh Government plans to become a ‘super sponsor’.
Refugees with family connections in the UK
On the 28 February the Home Secretary announced that British nationals and any person settled in the UK would have the ability to bring over their immediate Ukrainian family members. The Ukraine Family Scheme Visa was introduced on 4 March. Following criticism, the scheme’s eligibility was extended to include aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, cousins and in-laws.
Those who come to the UK through this this scheme will be able to stay in the UK for three years if they submit biometric information, involving a fingerprint scan and a photo, within six months of arrival. Once complete, a biometric residence permit (BRP) is issued as evidence of immigration status.
Figures from 29 March show a total of 31,200 applications received, and 22,100 visas issued under the Ukraine Family Scheme.
Refugees without family connections
On 18 March the UK Government introduced the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
Under this scheme Ukrainian nationals and their family members can come to the UK if they have a named sponsor. Those eligible can make an application online.
UK individuals, charities, community groups and businesses wanting to sponsor an individual or family of refugees who don’t personally know anyone fleeing Ukraine can register their interest
In its guidance, the UK Government says that sponsors must provide accommodation for a minimum of six months, and will receive an optional ‘thank you’ monthly payment of £350, paid up to 12 months or when the sponsorship ends. The payment will not affect benefit entitlement and will remain tax-free. Prior to payment, checks will be carried out which will include a visit to the accommodation offered by the sponsor.
Every refugee who is sponsored will be entitled to a £200 interim payment to help with subsistence costs, which will be provided by the local council. They will be able to stay for three years, be entitled to work and access benefits and public services. Local authorities will also receive £10,500 per individual who settles in its area to enable them to provide support.
Figures from 29 March show a total of 28,300 applications received, and 2,700 visas issued under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
On 30 March, Lord Harrington, Minister for Refugees, faced criticism from the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee regarding the number of visas issued. He said that “we have not got everything right” but the Government was aiming to “streamline” the scheme.
The Welsh Government becomes an official sponsor
The Welsh Government proposed to initially sponsor up to 1000 refugees, although this figure could be increased in the future.
Since the 26 March those applying online have the option of selecting the ‘Welsh Government’ under the category of a sponsor organisation.
In plenary on the 29 March the Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt MS, provided further details about how the scheme will operate in Wales. She explained that arrival hubs have been set-up at Holyhead, Pembroke Dock and Fishguard ports and at Cardiff Airport, Cardiff Central train and coach station and Wrexham Railway Station. Refugees will then be eligible for free travel to one of the welcome centres which have been set-up across Wales, where they will receive accommodation and support. The Minister said that the Welsh Government will work to find all individuals and families longer-term homes across Wales.
The Welsh Government has set up a dedicated helpline for people arriving in Wales from Ukraine.
The Welsh Government has also issued guidance for local authorities who will play a key role in supporting refugees. Businesses and organisations who want to help provide accommodation, transport, translators, interpreters and supplies such as food and clothing can also register offers of help.
Support for sponsors
Sponsors who don’t personally know anyone fleeing the conflict can also contact Reset Communities and Refugees. The organisation was set up in 2018 as the ‘UK’s Community Sponsorship learning hub’, and is helping register and match refugees from Ukraine with sponsors across the UK. It’s produced a toolkit for those wishing to welcome refugees through the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
Within Wales, potential sponsors can also register their interest through Housing Justice Cymru, which provides support for potential hosts and runs induction sessions.
The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) brings together 15 leading UK aid charities, raising funds and coordinating the UK public's response to overseas disasters. It launched the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal on 2 March and is helping to provide food, water, shelter, healthcare and protection to people fleeing the conflict.
The Welsh Government has donated £4m to the DEC appeal and has also sent a shipment of medical supplies to Poland, from where they will be sent to Ukraine. Further medical supplies are ready to be shipped.
On 29 March the Minister for Social Justice announced the Welsh Government will be donating £1m to the new Nation of Sanctuary Croeso Fund established by Community Foundation Wales. The fund is open to the public and organisations working with people seeking sanctuary in Wales.
The situation is changing rapidly and new announcements and policy changes are likely to occur over the coming days and weeks. Up to date information can be found on the Welsh Government and UK Government Ukraine webpages.
Article by Claire Thomas, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament