Ukraine-Russia conflict: UK Government should not pass responsibility for refugees onto local communities, charities warn

It is “not acceptable” for the UK Government to pass responsibility onto communities for its international obligations to protect refugees, the Scottish Refugee Council has warned as the UK Government unveiled its new refugee hosting scheme.

The refugee organisation said the Government’s Homes for Ukrainians scheme would be welcomed by Scots. But the body stressed the Government needed to take more responsibility for people fleeing the war in Ukraine.

The comments come as housing and communities secretary Michael Gove set out details of the hosting scheme, which will be open to anyone who is a Ukrainian national or the immediate family member of a Ukrainian national, and were resident in Ukraine prior to January 1. Those eligible will be able to live and work in the UK for up to three years and have access to healthcare, education and English language lessons.

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The first refugees – expected to be admitted as early as this week – will be those with connections to people in the the UK. However, Mr Gove said it would be “rapidly” expanded.

More than two million people have fled Ukraine following Russia's large-scale assault on the country.

Gary Christie, head of policy, communications and communities, at the Scottish Refugee Council, said: “We know that thousands of people across Scotland are desperate to do something and no doubt that many, many more offers to welcome and host Ukrainian refugees will be made through the new Homes for Ukrainians scheme.

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“But it’s simply not acceptable for the UK Government to wholly pass responsibility for its international obligations to save lives and protect refugees onto communities and individuals. So, we welcome the Scottish and Welsh governments’ wish to act as super sponsors and try to speed up the process of getting people to safety.”

The Scottish Government has said it is willing to become "super sponsors" to take in more refugees.

Mr Christie added: “We have long called for a sustained refugee resettlement system in the UK that plans for 10,000 refugees to be resettled each year to the UK and for an effective and fair asylum system – fundamental aspects of a refuge protection system.

"The UK Government has not listened. Instead it continues to create new ‘bespoke’ visa schemes and push its anti-refugee bill through Parliament, which will criminalise somebody fleeing the conflict in Ukraine who arrives to the UK off their own back, simply because of their method of arrival.”

Robina Qureshi, director of Glasgow-based refugee homelessness charity Positive Action in Housing, said the UK Government was “betraying the spirit of the refugee convention”.

The United Nations’ refugee arm has previously warned the Nationality and Borders Bill, which had its third reading in Westminster on Monday, would create an asylum model that “undermines established international refugee protection rules and practices”.

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She said: "A lot of media attention is on Gove’s overnight set-up Homes for Ukrainians. The minister is giving false hope to Ukrainians who are now contacting us about this scheme, but that is not where attention should be.

“We have been here with previous refugee crises – Afghan and Syrian – the warm words never meet reality on the ground. Gove’s Homes for Ukrainians scheme will let a trickle of Ukrainians through. That’s precisely what the Government wants in this latest refugee crisis.”

The Scottish Goverment’s Minister for Refugees from Ukraine, Neil Gray, said there was concern that the Sponsorship Scheme would be “slow and cumbersome and lack proper support and safeguarding”.

He said: “The UK Government should waive all visa requirements for Ukrainian nationals and put people, not processes, first.

“Working with local government, third sector and communities, we are confident we can deliver a comprehensive offer for Ukrainian refugees, which is why we have offered to act as ‘super sponsor’ as part of the UK Government’s Sponsorship Scheme.

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