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When it comes to child refugees, the government must move faster

When it comes to child refugees, the government must move faster
4 min read

In April I was contacted by Kate, a constituent who, with her husband, had been matched with two young Ukrainians under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme. Fifteen-year-old Nataliia and her aunt Millena had fled Kyiv some weeks earlier.

In April I was contacted by Kate, a constituent who, with her husband, had been matched with two young Ukrainians under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme. Fifteen-year-old Nataliia and her aunt Millena had fled Kyiv some weeks earlier.

We found out almost immediately that Millena’s visa had been approved the week before, but that hadn’t been communicated to her. Nataliia’s application sat in limbo for the next two months.

It took one person with real power to look at this one case in isolation and see there was only one moral outcome

The Home Office never told my team that they categorised Nataliia as an unaccompanied minor – we were left to draw that conclusion for ourselves, despite having the paperwork that showed Nataliia’s parents had signed over guardianship.

In late May we reached a crossroads. The terms of Millena’s visa meant she must enter the United Kingdom before the end of June. With no resolution in sight for Nataliia, and the two quickly running out of time and money, it became clear that soon Millena would need to make a choice. There was a very real possibility Nataliia would have to return to Ukraine alone.

I wrote letters to ministers and I made a final plea for ministerial intervention in the Chamber, reading a letter penned by Nataliia herself explaining how the delays felt from her perspective. Nataliia is eloquent and wise beyond her years. She’s had to grow up fast. It was heart-breaking when, two weeks later, the minister’s office confirmed that Nataliia could not come to the UK.

Like many of my parliamentary colleagues, I am all too familiar with the difficulties engaging with the Home Office. Response times have slipped significantly over the past year or so, and sometimes getting useful information is like drawing blood from a stone. I will give credit where due though, and I believe the minister for refugees has genuine compassion, an essential quality in a department that has lost its way under the current administration.

Members and staffers alike were aware that a policy announcement was expected – the word “imminently” was repeated for at least a month with nothing forthcoming. What was not being shared was the context – what was taking so long? What were the considerations that needed to be made? It makes it very hard to argue a case when the decision maker will not tell you what assurances they are looking for.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell my constituent Kate, who had worked so hard for so long to advocate for Nataliia, that this was it – we had reached the end of the road. I couldn’t accept “no” as the answer. So instead I made a direct request to meet ministers to discuss. I’m grateful that the minister for immigration took the time to meet me the very next day. I’m also grateful that he took the time to really explain the complications presented by unaccompanied minors, and I don’t doubt he was just as keen to get a resolution as I was. However, it didn’t lead to the outcome Nataliia needed.

It was the minister for refugees in the end, who looked at this case and granted Nataliia her visa earlier this month.

What I’ve learned from this case is that the Home Office cannot continue to be desensitised to casework – it took one person with real power to look at this one case in isolation and see there was only one moral outcome. It took a lot of work, but also a bit of luck.

When it comes to the lives of children, we cannot rely on luck or the hopes the right person might take notice.

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