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Tory Ministers Don't Know Who Is In Charge Of Ukraine Refugee Scheme

Liz Truss has failed to appoint a new refugee minister (Alamy)

4 min read

Ministers are unable to say who is in charge of supporting Ukrainian refugees in the UK following the resignation of Lord Harrington, who oversaw the government's flagship Homes for Ukraine scheme, over a month ago.

The government has faced anger from Labour and UK refugee hosts over their failure to appoint someone new to the position. 

The Tory peer Lord Harrington stepped down in early September from his role overseeing the UK's refugee programme for Ukrainians who have fled their homes following Putin's invasion.

In his resignation letter, which came just days before the end of the Conservative leadership contest, Harrington said his work was "essentially complete" and claimed his decision could "save on a ministerial post" for the incoming leader. Liz Truss has vowed to reduce the number of ministerial positions, which had swelled under her predecessor Boris Johnson

The Homes for Ukraine scheme, for which Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has dual responsibility, asks British hosts to provide accommodation for a minimum six-month period in exchange for a £350-a-month payment aimed at helping offset an increase in household bills. There have been growing concerns that the end of the six-month period could lead to a surge in homelessness as many refugees continue to struggle to find new accommodation in the UK.

In Harrington's absence, there is now nobody in government directly responsible for over 100,000 Ukrainian refugees who have already arrived in the UK under the scheme

Instead, the government had split aspects of the scheme down to different departments, with junior levelling up minister Andrew Stephenson given responsbility for handling housing issues for both Afghan and Ukrainian refugees alongside the government's wider efforts to tackle rough sleeping.

But his role does cover other cross-departmental aspects of the scheme, including the visa process, which had previously been led on by Harrington during his time in office.

And one host in the UK told PoliticsHome they had been "screaming out" for support from government, reflecting anger among those involved with the scheme over the failure to put someone new in charge. 

"It's appalling there is no one. Lots of hosts were critical of [Harrington] but at least he was trying to sort out the issues," they said. "The fact that ministers don't know who is in charge is appalling."

At the launch of a Conservative Friends of Ukraine group at Conservative party conference last week, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly insisted the government would double down on its commitment to help the country. But when challenged by PoliticsHome, he did not say who was overseeing Harrington's former brief. 

Security Minister Tom Tugendhat, who also appeared at the event, could not confirm who in government was directly responsible for refugees. "I have no idea I'm afraid," he told PoliticsHome

Ukraine's Ambassador to the UK Vadym Prystaiko called for "more hospitality, more generosity, more patience" from the UK government, but said he remained "fascinated" by the continued bureaucracy around the visa process.

"We’ll never forget this, this act, this kindness," he told Conservative members in Birmingham. 

But Prystaiko expressed frustration with continued delays on visas for Ukrainians arriving in the UK which he has repeatedly criticised for being overly complicated, and has requested be significantly simplified for those fleeing the war.

"Please, somebody do something with the visas, finally," he continued.

"Where is Foreign Secretary Cleverly? This is just a disgrace, you know, I have to tell you."

Shadow Communities Secretary Lisa Nandy told PoliticsHome Truss had "squandered" the generosity of British hosts. 

“Liz Truss has left the post of Refugees Minister empty for a month despite the very real prospect of a homelessness emergency this winter," she said.

"It would be shameful if Ukrainian families who fled the bombs and bullets of Putin find themselves homeless in Britain. The government has had months to prepare for this but we still haven’t seen a proper plan to avoid a crisis.

"British households showed amazing generosity in opening their homes to desperate people in need. The government has already squandered much of that generosity. It cannot fail to do its job again."

A government spokesperson said: "More than 134,000 Ukrainians have arrived safely in the UK since we launched the schemes and we continue to work across government to help as many people as possible.

"This is being led by Minister Stephenson and we continue to work with councils, hosts and sponsors to ensure Ukrainians can rebuild their lives in the UK."

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