Responding to the Government launching the “Homes for Ukraine” website for people to sponsor Ukrainian refugees yesterday, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson and MP for Orkney and Shetland, Alistair Carmichael, has challenged government ministers to explain how the rights of Ukrainians will be protected and how quickly refugees will be able to arrive in the UK as they flee Russia’s invasion. The scheme 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 Ukraine can register their interest in being a sponsor from Monday. Anyone in the UK (of any nationality and any immigration status providing they have at least six months leave to remain 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 6 months, be fit for people to live in, and be suitable for the number of people to be accommodated.
Speaking in the House, Mr Carmichael asked:
“This is significant and welcome progress, even if I suspect it still leaves us somewhere short of our obligations under the 1951 convention. Can the Secretary of State explain how this sponsorship scheme will interact with the rights of those who are already here, perhaps under a work visa? If their circumstances change, how will they then be able to obtain the same level of protection that will be given to refugees coming here under his scheme?”
Responding for the government, Michael Gove MP said:
“The scheme we are introducing today is not perfect, but we hope to work with him and others to make sure that it is improved as it develops. One of the things we want to do is to stress that anyone who has six months’ residency in the UK can act as a sponsor, but he quite rightly draws attention to the fact that there are Ukrainians in this country—some are students, for example, and others are in a position where they do not have indefinite leave to remain—and we will seek to regularise their status. The Home Secretary and Lord Harrington are, I know, already on it.”
Reacting after the exchange, Mr Carmichael said:
“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.
“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 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.”