Refugees Minister Admits Rollout Of Ukrainian Schemes Has Been "Embarrassing"
Lord Harrington, the refugees minister, has described the rollout of the Ukrainian refugee schemes as "embarrassing" after being inundated with calls from people who were struggling to get Ukrainians into the UK through the systems set up by the government.
Harrington, who Boris Johnson brought in towards the end of last month to help implement the schemes, on Tuesday night admitted the Home Office and the wider government had not been "geared up" to deal with the volume of refugee applications, during a phone-in hosted by LBC's Iain Dale.
He characterised the system as "a slow and bureaucratic process, with sending information to different places, waiting for an answer, sending it, waiting for an answer", and didn't disagree when a caller described it as a "disgrace".
Harrington, who is a former Conservative MP, spoke to a Ukrainian woman who had been stuck in Paris since 24 March waiting for a UK visa with her niece and 18-month-old baby, after they applied through the family scheme. She described it as an "appalling situation".
Responding, Harrington said "ten days of waiting is not acceptable" and that he wouldn't make excuses, as to do so would be "pathetic", adding "we know things are not good".
He said: "I promise you in my every waking hour – and you might say your waking hours are not good enough – that me and our very dedicated staff are here to deal with this. This is not your problem and you want it dealt with. I can but apologise, I'm trying to sort this out".
NHS nurse Lauren told Harrington she was considering flying out to Poland to comfort a Ukrainian family which she had applied to sponsor through the Homes For Ukraine scheme when launched on 18th March. She said she was "traumitised" by the process and was wondering whether to submit a new application to the Home Office after not receiving a response to her first one.
Harrington did not disagree with Dale that the Home Office had not been giving him all the information he needed to help finesse the schemes. "That's a very valid criticism," he said.
He acknowledged that there were likely many more cases of people struggling with the schemes. "As an MP, which I was for nine years, if one person wrote it meant 10 or 20 people had the exact same problem," Harrington said.
The government has been under intense pressure to speed up the rollout of the Ukrainian refugee schemes, which are being led by Priti Patel's Home Office and Michael Gove's Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Harrington was brought in a few days after the family connection scheme was launched to help accelerate the process.
The Times reported this week that just 500 of the 5,200 people granted visas under the Homes For Ukraine scheme, in which Brits can sponsor Ukrainians to live with them in the UK, had actually arrived in the country. The figure represents just 1.6% of the 32,000 people who have applied.
PoliticsHome has reported several cases of the bureaucracy facing those trying to seek refuge in the UK, including how Ukrainian mothers trying to reach the UK with children are being asked to provide proof of the father's permission while many fathers are on the Ukrainian frontline and unreachable.
Some people who have tried to sponsor Ukrainians to come and stay with them in the UK have been targeted by scammers posing as vulnerable refugees. These people say they were driven to find matches online because the government process had been moving too slowly.
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